Friday, April 30, 2010

Thoughts on writing from a great Writer

Russell T Davies, when asked about how he writes the different companions on Doctor Who:

"That's tricky. I don't type 'DONNA' and then think, now, how would she say this...? The fact that I've typed 'DONNA' means that she already has something to say. You can worry too much about speech patterns, about imposing different styles on the words, one for Rose, one for Donna, one for Martha, one for Sarah Jane. They're all women, on the side of good, in a sci-fi world, so their speeches aren't going to be radically different. It's not so much what they say, as why they say it and when.

"But I suppose there's a basic characteristic that I bear in mind. An essence. Rose is open, honest, heartfelt, to the point of being selfish, wonderfully selfish. Martha is clever, calm, but rarely says what she's really thinking. Donna is blunt, precise, unfiltered, but with a big heart beneath all the banter. But we come back to what I was saying ages ago about 'turning' characters. If Rose can be selfish, then her finest moments will come when she's selfless. If Martha keeps quiet, then her moments of revelation - like her goodbye to the Doctor in Last of the Time Lords, or stuck with Milo and Cheen in Gridlock - make her fly. Donna is magnificently self-centered - not selfish, but she pivots everything around herself, as we all do - so when she opens up and hears the Ood song, or begs for Caecilius' family to be saved, then she's wonderful."

- from "The Writer's Tale",

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Writing Again

I'm working on a new script. Well, it's been in the brainstorming stages, and I've just recently begun actually putting words on the page. It's a story about mystery, intrigue, and suspense - with a little action and adventure thrown in - and all done in the style of the classic 60s spy movies.

As I've been working with Josh, who is co-writing with me, we've come up with multiple ways of picturing the characters. We've found a few quotes that seem to describe our two main characters quite well, and just for fun, I've decided to share them with you:

"He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which."
-- Douglas Adams

"I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day, and I believe in miracles."
-- Audrey Hepburn

Just some insight into the early stages of screenwriting. It's always useful as a writer to have as many angles of looking at something as possible. That way, if you get stuck from one angle, you can try another. Sometimes these angles are images, or quotes, or inspired by real people. Sometimes it's just a mood, or an atmosphere... or a song.

He always runs while others walk,
He acts while other men just talk,
He looks at this world and wants it all,
So he strikes like Thunderball.

He knows the meaning of success,
His needs are more so he gives less,
They call him the winner who takes all,
And he strikes like Thunderball.

Any woman he wants he'll get
He will break any heart without regret.

His days of asking are all gone,
His fight goes on and on and on,
But he thinks that the fight is worth it all,
So he strikes like THUNDERBALL...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Impossible Dream

Tomorrow, everyone's gonna know me better,
and tomorrow, everyone's gonna drink my wine.
And tomorrow, everyone's gonna read my letter,
and my story of love and a love that could never be mine...
-- The brothers Gibb

I took part in a discussion last night that led to some intriguing thoughts. In the interest of further pondering, I am writing them here. So... Superman wants to bring about peace on earth. Batman wants to stop crime in Gotham. What's the problem with this? Those things are NEVER going to happen. Once you think about it, almost every hero has some sort of impossible goal. Even if it's as simple as stopping evil, you know these heroes are never going to achieve it. As soon as you crush an arch-nemesis, evil will always spring from somewhere else, it's just the way the world works.

...And isn't the definition of insanity 'doing something over and over again and expecting different results'? Our heroes will NEVER achieve what it is they strive for - couldn't that be seen as foolish? I can think of one other literary figure who seems strikingly similar to these examples... Don Quixote. If Batman and Quixote are so similar, what's the difference between being a hero and being a fool?

To dream the impossible dream...
To fight the unbeatable foe...
To bear with unbearable sorrow...
To run where the brave dare not go...
To right the unrightable wrong...
To love pure and chaste from afar...
To try when your arms are too weary...
To reach the unreachable star...
-- The Man of La Mancha

Monday, March 22, 2010

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

There's no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There's no knowing where we're rowing
Or which way the river's flowing
Is it raining, is it snowing
Is a hurricane a-blowing

Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing?
Is the grisly reaper mowing?

Yes, the danger must be growing
For the rowers keep on rowing!
And they're certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing!!

I must confess: When I first saw the 1971 version of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" I was frightened out of my mind. It might have had something to do with the fact that I was 8 years old and my mind was prone to attaching reality to the movies I watched, or maybe it was that my sisters were so scared that they left me alone in a dark room to finish it, or maybe it was the extremely brilliant surreal execution of the film thanks to Mel Stuart and Roald Dahl.

Needless to say, when each of those children had something horrific happen to them, and Gene Wilder treated it with such nonchalant flippancy, It scared the socks off me.

...But I recently re-watched it, and I found every single aspect of the film to be delightful and full of life. I can still see why I was terrified as a child, but now the wild ride is much more enjoyable. The colors are bold, the nonsense is delicious, Gene Wilder is simultaneously off his rocker and the sanest man in the room. The songs are fun, and there is a wonderful point to it all that speaks to both kids and adults. And besides, the Snozzberries really DO taste like Snozzberries!

In short, I think this film may have just rocketed into my top favorites of all time in only one viewing. Will I watch it again? You bet.

To quote Willy Wonka quoting Arthur O'Shaughnessy,

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ender's Game - a deeper look

“As a species, we have evolved to survive. And the way we do it is by straining and straining and, at last, every few generations, giving birth to genius. The one who invents the wheel. And light. And flight. The one who builds a city, a nation, an empire.... Human beings are free except when humanity needs them. Maybe humanity needs you. To do something.”
- Col. Graff to Ender on his first day of battle school.

I was 12 years old when I first read Ender's Game. When I finished, I felt like I had lived a whole other life, that I had been Ender Wiggin, or at least lived with him. I was only a child, but so was he, and I connected very deeply with what I read. It was breathtaking. Then I read it again. I absolutely loved that book, and I still find it impossible to put down once I start. But even after many times through, I am still realizing the fullness and richness of the tapestry woven by Orson Scott Card.

To set the stage, The book takes place in the near future. Aliens, nick-named "buggers" because of their insectoid appearance, have invaded earth and were barely defeated by Earth's infantile space fleet. Now Earth's governments have begun monitoring children to find the smartest and the best, so that they can train them to become commanders, and be prepared to fight the buggers when the next imminent invasion comes. They do so by placing them in a battle school, an orbital facility where the children are put into teams and play strategy games in zero gravity battle simulations. Ender is the best at these games.
(SPOILERS AHEAD - I am warning you now, if you haven't read the book before, go and do so, and then come back to finish reading this)

"I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one."

First of all, I think it's important to denote Ender as a superhero. His "super power" is his intelligence. He is a genius. The smartest kid in the world. Because of this power, he is chosen to be Earth's savior before he even knows it.

“I have to win this now, and for all time, or I’ll fight it every day and it will get worse and worse.”
- Ender

This is the problem that Ender faces over and over again. He ends up in a place where he can't back out. He has to use his power to win, or he will be destroyed. Sometimes figuratively, but sometimes literally. Probably the most important question for a superhero is: How does he use his super power? And part of what makes Ender a hero and not a villain is that he tries to use his power for virtue, not for selfishness. And some of the time, he doesn't even realize the full extent to which he uses his power over people. Like when his fellow student Bonzo Madrid challenges him and tries to kill him - Ender is only doing what he can to escape the situation alive, and to keep away any repercussions from other enemies at school. When he finds out he killed Bonzo, it destroys him emotionally.

“This was supposed to be a game. Not a choice between my own grisly death and an even worse murder. I’m a murderer, even when I play. Peter would be proud of me.”

One thing that I have only recently realized is that Ender's Game is a myth. It follows the conventions of mythological heroes as examined by Joseph Campbell, whose studies were inspirational to George Lucas in making Star Wars. 1) A miraculous birth - By law, parents are only allowed two children to avert overpopulation, yet Ender is born because of a special government decree. 2) A calling - Ender is called to save the world before he even knows it. 3) Ender is separated from his world, his family, everything he knows, and is taken away to be trained. Then he undergoes a series of trials and quests, which 'purify' him. 4) His training strips everything from him until he is practically dead, and must "descend into the underworld" - going back to earth, where he regains his purpose from his sister Valentine. 5) He rises again, back into space, where he must make his final confrontation with his enemy.

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them- ...I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don’t exist.”

Another interesting perspective is the way the characters shed light onto the human soul. As Plato might see it: Ender is the intellect, Valentine is the heart, and Peter is the appetite or the desire. Ender sees both of his siblings within him, and this both comforts him and terrifies him.

“I know what you’re thinking, you bastard, you’re thinking that I’m wrong, that Ender’s like Peter. Well maybe I’m like Peter, but Ender isn’t, he isn’t at all, I used to tell him that when he cried, I told him that lots of times, you’re not like Peter, you never like to hurt people, you’re kind and good and not like Peter at all!”
- Valentine to Col. Graff

...And what would a hero be without a sidekick? Bean is one of my favorite characters ever, and it's hard to call him a sidekick, because he has a whole spinoff series devoted to him. ...But for this book, that is the role he plays, and to the extent that he helps Ender, and makes up for Ender's weaknesses, his role is extremely pivotal indeed.

"There is no teacher but the enemy. No one but the enemy will tell you what the enemy is going to do. ...I am your enemy from now on. From now on I am your teacher."
- Mazer Rackham

Finally, we have the mentor. ...And he's presented in such a way that I've never seen elsewhere. His stance and attitude are exactly what Ender needs - but not what he wants. Even when he has succeeded at battle school, Ender can never escape his enemies, or his calling. But the tragic part is that he hates what it is they are making him into. And as a reader, you are glad of it, because it means Ender is still human after all.

"Well, I'm your man. I'm the bloody bastard you wanted when you had me spawned. I'm your tool, and what difference does it make if I hate the part of me that you most need? What difference does it make that when the little serpents killed me in the game, I agreed with them, and was glad."
- Ender Wiggin to Mazer and Graff

There is so much more to unpack, but in the interest of keeping this blog post from becoming a novel in itself, I am going to end here. Needless to say, if a huge cigar-chomping studio exec ever offered me a bajillion dollars to adapt any book I wanted into a movie, Ender's Game would be it. No hesitation.

"The screen went blank, and words appeared. PLAY AGAIN?"

Friday, February 26, 2010

High Hopes

Just finished writing through another draft of my screenplay (this is the one about vampires and cowboys and the end of the world). This re-write was a pretty hefty overhaul, about 50% of the previous draft had to be re-written.

...And when it comes down to it, the hardest part of writing is not the dialog or the beats - it's the bones, the fundamental puzzle pieces of what actually happens and how it all interlocks with the other pieces of the story, that's the bonkers part of writing. Once those pieces start clicking into place, it feels glorious, and the writing becomes so much easier. Or maybe that's just me.

This may tie into the way I work. I find that I write best when I have the character's voice in my head. I usually have to write a little bit before I really know a character, but once I know them, and once I know all their little quirks and mannerisms, their psychology, it all becomes fun. Like playing action figures or legos as a kid, I just like throwing my creations into different situations and seeing what happens.

Anyhow, it felt good to get all the way through again. It's feeling right, for the most part. Now all that's left is just some quick revisions to a few scenes and overall polishes, and the script will be ready to be read!

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The aged, broken voice

There's something rather bizarre that I've realized about myself, more specifically my taste in vocal performances. ...And here it is: I love listening to old guys sing.

Vocal chords all old and leathery, voice sounding like sandpaper, and a diaphragm too old to support hitting the range of notes it used to be able to... It's pretty much the opposite of what you could call "good" singing. But I don't care. I love it.

Take, for example, Johnny Cash in his later years. This song, when sung by Cash, sounds way more awesome to me than the original performers. And one of my favorite songs ever is this Bob Dylan original called Not Dark Yet. And this guy performs covers of songs that blow the originals out of the water! Okay, that last one was just for fun. ...But you can't deny there's something fascinating about that old man...

...And maybe that's just it. It's not the hitting of notes, it's the character in the voice, it's the tangible feeling of history that is so engaging.

A lot of people say they can't stand Bob Dylan's voice. But I feel that the gravelly, raspy utterances work perfectly with the beautiful, sonorous music backing him up. He refuses to sing along with the notes, instead filling out the spaces in between with a lilting counter-rhythm. ...And the fact that you can get a sense that he's seen just about everything on the face of the earth makes it so that I cannot tear my eyes away. Or my ears.

As a writer, I love the sound of unique voices, unique ways of saying things, mannerisms, idioms, and dialects, and it's something that I wish to capture in my stories. If a character has a voice, a tangible voice that leaps off the page and engages the reader, then it is a success.

Anyways. Just some musings. When I grow old, I just want to be as awesome as this guy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


...sometimes life feels like this:...and all you can do is hope that when it's all over, you still have your other boot.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Best Films of 2009

Well, who's to say they're the best? ...but they're my favorite films of the year, so take it or leave it.

In review, here's my post on 2008's best and worst.

And now, on with the list:
(btw - click on these images for hi-res)

10. The Imaginarium of Doctor ParnassusAn excellent film from Terry Gilliam, wildly imaginative as usual. Plus, Tom Waits as the devil is sheer brilliance!

9. KnowingAn early surprise this year, Knowing is a story about a man who must come to terms with the end of the world. And trust me, the end is well worth it.

8. The Princess and the FrogA return to Disney traditional animation, and a return to the story quality of the days of Lion King. So good!

7. TetroA beautiful and personal film by Francis Ford Coppola.

6. MoonI'm pretty sure this is going to get snubbed by the Oscars this year, but Sam Rockwell delivers the performance of a lifetime in this awesome space drama.

5. Where the Wild Things AreSheer joy. Spike Jonze delivers a riotous romp and a touching emotional story, all in one film.

4. District 9Another huge surprise, and a breath of fresh air for 'alien invasion' movies. Gritty yet epic.

3. A Serious Man
The Coen Brothers give us a film that is so hilarious and yet utterly depressing at the same time. It's painful how closely it reflects real life.

2. The Brothers BloomOne of the best mixes of cleverness, emotion, and hilarity I have ever seen. A stylish con man story that keeps you guessing, and a perfect payoff.

1. UpPixar strikes again, this time with the most emotional movie of the year. I love this movie so much.

(Honorable Mentions: The Lovely Bones, Star Trek, (500) Days of Summer, Avatar, and Sherlock Holmes.)

THE WORST LIST: (pretty self-explanatory, right?)

3rd worst: Terminator: SalvationThis had high potential. So in a way, it had the farthest to fall. ...And yes, Christian Bale. I am trashing up your scene.

2nd worst: Transformers 2: Revenge of the FallenWhen I saw the first Transformers, I asked myself, "how could they possibly screw up a movie about giant robots any worse than this?" ...and then came the sequel.

1st worst movie of the year: WatchmenAn utter piece of trash, the only redeemable quality was some Bob Dylan music in the soundtrack. Otherwise, this movie completely and utterly fails. And it's a shame, too, because the graphic novel is so excellent. In a way it's ironic that director Zach Snyder thought he was being so faithful to the source material. Spare yourself. Do not watch this movie.

There you go. I hope this has been helpful.