Neverending Research

Author of eight Margot O’Banion & Max Skull mysteries, Kit Sloane’s offbeat stories chronicle the intricacies of Hollywood filmmaking from the point of view of her protagonist, feature film editor Margot O’Banion and her significant other, director Max Skull. She was the first fiction editor of Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine from 1996-1998. A longtime member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Mystery Women of the UK, Kit graduated from Mills College, Oakland CA with a degree in Art History and was named one of Mills College’s Literary Women for 2007.

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Every writer does some research for every story. It doesn’t matter what the story is about, but there are parts that have to be investigated. These facts can be as simple as searching the lay of the land of a particular town to the intricacies of police procedure and firearms (the complications of which I avoid whenever possible, but other writers know this stuff and do it well).

My protagonists are in the movie business. Margot is a feature film editor and her partner, Max, is a screenwriter and film director. I began researching Margot when I visited a friend who was interning to become a film editor. I was fascinated by the quiet, reserved, mostly women, I met. These people were far from the perceived “glitz” of Hollywood. They worked, often by themselves, in quiet rooms with only the sound of their editing equipment in the room.

I thought this would be a great “job” for a mystery protagonist, a wallflower of sorts who generally avoids the spotlight while surrounded by competitive, larger-than-life actors, and production people. Film editors are concerned with details. That’s their job, taking miles of film (or tape) and finding just the right scene, lighting, nuance of acting that fulfills the director’s vision. As a protagonist Margot observes. She and the reader share her observations and we read as she reaches conclusions based on this talent. Her partner, Max, is a doer. He is the perfect counterpoint for Margot. Max is oblivious to ordinary life, living his life on an artistic plane that rarely touches earth. They balance each other and create a great life together.

So, besides watching film editors at work and researching the history of film editors in Hollywood (one of the first areas where women were recognized and allowed to participate), I found I was also writing in the heights of the age of technology. Yikes! My film editor had to move with the times. She couldn’t stay in the 1990s where we’d begun. Soon I was collecting articles on technological advances in the field, researching the gradual switch from celluloid to digital tape and the various camera techniques of hand-held cameras.

Most of my “expertise” comes from having a daughter and her partner both working in the Hollywood production realm. I listen to them. I take notes. I ask questions. Together we’ve worked out some interesting plots! I’ve researched Hollywood history, the ins and outs of location shooting, and where the money comes from… I’ve even researched drug cartels and weather!

When I began work on my most recent book, The Magicians, I was, once again, in new territory—the inner workings of a reality TV show. My Hollywood sources clued me into the fact that this type of production is totally removed from regular TV shows, not to mention filmmaking. To begin with, they even have their own vocabulary! So I began Googling and unearthed jewels of terminology such as:

Frankenbite means we say things that they edit into a story,” Loretta Rose whispered. “You know, like Frankenstein. They create a monster by editing. It’ll make us sound interesting, Don’t you do that sort of stuff in movies, Margot?”

“We need a Money Shot,” Jake shouted. “Gimme a money shot, a goddamned climax. Don’t you guys have anything bad to say to each other for this show? I need bad.”

And “Creative Editing” which, of course, is essentially what a film editor does but these reality shows purport to be REAL and the editing is used to make “real” look interesting. Usually this is done by editing text and pictures from different scenes and put them together to look whole and spontaneous.

All in all it was fun to research a new venue for my characters as well as, of course, throwing in a body or two and a lot of surprises.

Research is fun and enlightening and can add so much to a plot. With the Internet at our fingertips, no one has an excuse not to make it right!

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11 thoughts on “Neverending Research

  1. As a history major, research is taught to us everyday by our wonderful history professors, who never tire of saying “primary resources, primary resources.” But researching for my series is much more delightful as I get to do fun stuff like finding out about legends concerning Atlantis, and Scottish and Irish lore. Your book sounds very inviting. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any mystery types.


  2. I’ve had friends suggest I try writing. I keep telling them I’m too lazy to do all the research. I always enjoy books that let me learn new bits about a variety of things without pushing the info.


  3. I’m so happy to see the comment by Pat that she likes THE MAGICIAN’s cover. All my covers are done (through 3-different publishers!) by my daughter, Annie Sperling, whose “day job” is as a very successful art director in, yes, Hollywood. This cover is the first one she’s done out of the 8 in the series, that is pure “art.” It’s a painting, no photoshop or film clips. I’ll tell her you liked it. Thanks!
    And doing research is FUN. One thing leads to another and, voila, you’ve actually learned something new!


  4. These books sound wonderful! I’d love to win a copy of The FAt Lady but even if I don’t I think I’ve just added another author to my tbb pile. I love Gilbert and Sullivan!


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