Thursday, June 27, 2013

"A couple of us sneaked a look at his personnel file the day he arrived. It's his IQ."

I'm taking tomorrow off from work to go camping with my boys.  No girls.  In fact, the name of the expedition is "The No Girls Allowed Campout" just so that there's no confusion.  Apparently the ladies of my house are planning a "No Boys Allowed Shopping Spree" with the caveat that the "no boys" part doesn't apply to the boy's credit cards.

Writing project update:  The reorganization of feature #1 is on schedule.  Feature #2 is aging like claret (and probably will until I can figure out how to get the budget lower).  Feature #3 is stalled out but that's okay.  Short #1(really a promo video) is complete and available to watch on Facebook - you don't have to login.  Finally, short #2 is in outlining/synopsis/1st draft mode.  That's quite a mode.  I have the concept and logline but the rest of my process is still sort of out there.

So Jon, thanks for the updates and everything, but this is Thursday.  Where's the TV report?

This was not a good week for TV from my perspective.  I left several episodes unfinished.  I don't know
Francis Aaron a.k.a. '85' in 1992's Alien 3
 if it was the after effects of the perigee moon, just being tired from the kettlebells, or that I've picked up Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice.  What an amazing story teller.

We started a “Glades” and stopped it 10 minutes in.  Picked it back up a couple of nights later and finished the episode but, meh.  We got about 8 minutes into “Terra Nova” and gave up.  Just wasn't cutting it, seemed like everyone was being really, really dumb.  I mean 85 dumb.  Watched “Arrested Development” and my wife fell asleep - it's only 20 minutes long.  Tried another episode a few nights later and, well, either it's not staying fresh or it was just not a good week.  We even watched a “Flashpoint” to break things up.  It was the worst episode we've seen.  There have been a couple of good ones, most are okay.  This one I kept saying, "What?"  Except for the part where I said, "Dude, you're BACK is on fire, why don't you roll around on that instead of your stomach?"  It was one of those weeks where Plants vs. Zombies is more interesting than anything else on the screen.

This week, “Must See TV” is “Must See something else on TV”.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it."

First - thank you all very much.  It's only been a month but I've had over a thousand hits on the blog.  I really appreciate the encouragement and comments, both public and private.  If you have a particular topic or film you'd like me to tackle, or a prompt for an Original Ficiton Friday, please send me an email.

***

Did another kettle-bell class.  We can move today, but it was exhausting last night.  I think that an evening workout is better - you don't spend the day saying, "Oww."  Netflix is still not quite right on our queue so “The 6th Sense” hasn't shown up.  In fact, it's been an extra-long time between shipping
and delivery of anything.  Never fear, however, I have been reading scripts and spending lots of time trying to decide which one I want to talk about today.

I've settled on “Fargo”.  I will admit that when I saw it, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  William H. Macy was very funny though I usually find him annoying (“Jurassic Park 3” anyone?) but it was violent and geared toward a grown up audience on pretty much every level so after the initial viewing I never
revisited it.  It's been at least a decade but I can still hear the accents in the dialogue and remember a few key scenes.  Others I had forgotten until I read the script.

About that script - I can see why the Cohen brothers get their movies made.  The story is very easy to follow but jumps out at you from the page with honest dialogue, uniquely voiced characters, and the cold of North Dakota’s winter.

There were a few sections I skimmed - I was surprised at how much profanity there was but, fortunately, it was mostly confined to two characters so the ejection factor was somewhat mitigated and it was easy enough to get back to the narrative.  I will be pontificating on the use of profanity in scripts - as opposed to the films themselves - in the future.  I'm lining up my ducks.  It will be an opus.  My internet break-out piece that causes the sky to open and music to play followed by every agency in town saying, "If he can have such an enlightened opinion expressed so clearly, we want to sign him.  Yesterday."  [Moment of day dreaming.] Where was I?

The climax of the film was very short on the scrip though on the screen it was drawn out with great tension.  We were faced with drifting snow, a lone police woman, a bandit, and a shredder.  On the page it was described very matter-of-factly with just a little bit of humor.  There were a few other places where I noticed the same effect in the script - what was written came through clearly and carried the story, but the screen version of the scene possessed far more punch. I'm not sure if it's because I was standing on the train while reading it instead of freezing in North Dakota, or if it was just a well-made film.  I will need to keep my eyes open.  I suspect it's the latter – cinema is its own art.

I remember “Fargo” as being a somewhat complicated caper-style film with a lot going on.  In the script there was no sense of that complication.  We were introduced to the crime early and then it split into parallel lanes, both with unique and shared obstacles, eventually coming back together.  There was a hint of "film noir" in the late entry of the law enforcement hero - we had been set up to root for the bad guys but just couldn't and then it was very satisfying when the very pregnant Officer Marge Gunderson arrived and did her thing.  In essence, they applied the "delayed entry of villain" rule to the protagonist and it really worked.

I also recalled that there was a potential love problem.  The script reminded me of it and I was again impressed at how little of it was actually written.  The power of the scenes was in the acting.  It didn't need a lot of page to get the story across.  I am still over writing my scenes and this script, in particular, was a very good example for me to see how just a little goes a long way.

If you devour scripts then you've probably already read this one.  If you don't, as good as the story is, there are plenty of other scripts that aren't quite as unsettling or became ‘R’ in the filming rather than the writing, to whet your appetite with.  Of course, if you loved Fargo...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Beedeebeedeebeedee..."

This Tuesday I reach into the toolbox and pull out... Storyist, for the iPad.  Last week I talked about how the nifty, trendy, costly little contraption from Apple has become indispensable to my writing, this week I'll share the app that has made it so.  Indispensible, that is.

To be quite honest about things, Storyist is far more important of a tool than the iPad, but, of course, won't run on my Seiko so it gets the number 2 spot.  I understand that there is a Mac version of the program too.  I haven't used it but if I had a Mac I definitely would.  Storyist is that good.

What makes it so good?  It works.

Storyist is, at its core, a word processing app for the iPad.  You can write anything you want using Storyist.  It's not as powerful as the top desktop applications are today, but you can do everything that the early generations of Word Perfect, WordStar, or even Word could do and you can do it more easily.  No dot commands or obtuse menus.

The formatting required for writing screenplays is very exacting and Storyist handles it all.  Switching between action, characters, dialogue, sluglines, or anything is simple and intuitive.  The transitions are customizable to fit your writing style.  It has an "auto-suggest" that manages to be helpful without
getting in the way.  You can type the first couple of letters of a character's name and up pops the whole thing.  What a time saver if you have someone named CAPTAIN WILLIAM "BUCK" ROGERS with lines in every scene.  (If his name was ANTHONY “BUCK” ROGERS then you’re probably writing silent film… okay, it wasn't that old.)


Wait!  That’s not all.  There are project templates for Screenplays, Novels, and “General” – which is just a blank file.  The template project files set up the formatting for industry submission standards and provide the organizational folders you will need to hold your "story sheets" - notes that are specific to characters, scenes, settings, plot points, or what have you.  The story sheets are a great way to organize your ideas and all tie in to each other.  It sounds complicated but it isn’t.  You can even include photos if you want – to remind you of what that perfect setting looks like or if there's an actor who looks exactly like Gil Gerard.

There is also a notecard feature.  The notecard feature in Storyist completely changed how I wrote long fiction.  It's why I was able to churn out a "way too long but finished" 172 page first draft of my first screenplay in a month.  The notecards tie directly to the main body of the text.  Sluglines serve as card headers.  You can put notes on the cards to describe the scene in you have in mind and then move on to the next.  You can write in any order.  You can color code.  You can rearrange - and when you rearrange the card, the entire section in the main file moves too!  You don't miss bits and pieces.  That's especially important for the iPad where you don't have a mouse.  The note card feature is available in any of the templates so if you are writing a research paper you have the same benefit.

You can share files from Storyist directly with iTunes and Dropbox.  It will export in all of the standard formats (including .PDF) plus Final Draft.  It also IMPORTS Final Draft format and text files.  I happen to like that since I use Final Draft on my desktop.  I import a lot of text files too – mostly scripts that I’m reading that aren’t in PDF (which I read using the Nook) because it’s easy to organize them and I can make notes.

I have also tried the "Novel" template and it works.  There isn't as much in it compared to the screenplay template, but then, you don't need as much.  The writing is very easy, I didn't spend my time fighting with a program that was creating lists and bullets or reformatting my text all of the time.  That’s what makes it such an amazing tool.  In 15 minutes you’ve learned it and then the only thing you ever think about is what you are writing.

Storyist is not a free app, but at $7.99 it is a bargain if you have an iPad and do any sort of writing.  The $40 for Final Draft is a rip-off.  Forgive me for being blunt.  There are a couple of free or nearly free screenwriting apps but they aren't worth the trouble.  Storyist is seamless.  I've been using it for nearly six months and still love it.  Sometimes I'll even work from the iPad in Storyist when I'm home and have access to "the big guns" just because it's so basic and effective.

Buying Storyist gets the zombie pass because if you write and have an iPad it's a... "no brainer."  I am so hilarious.

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Dear Gregory, I'm very sorry I chased you with a booger on my finger. Here, I put it on this paper so you can get me back."

Inspiration can come spewing up from anywhere.  Be ready for it - or it will end up on your shoes, or worse, on your shirt.  I've been considering writing a kid’s movie since I got started with scripts (I have also considered young adult fiction in years past, even writing part of a novel to test out the idea) but I keep coming back to the same problem.  I don't write for kids.  Not well, at any rate.

The problem isn't what you might expect.  I like kids, have a good time with kids, relate well with kids, and can even tell a pretty good campfire story most of the time.  My bedtime stories haven't gotten any complaints either, well, other than being too short.  But bedtime stories don't usually translate well into features or even printed fiction because they are so personal.

So what is the problem?  I don't do gross.  I was an only child growing up and didn't have gross competitions with my brother or try to gross out my sister.  I wasn't often surrounded by children my own age except at school where gross was strictly verboten and failure to comply with the rules meant swift and painful punishment.  Yes, I am that old.  Not doing gross, I don't write gross with any sort of authority.  It's pretty bad gross actually.  I end up describing a scene I've seen somewhere else and I have nothing even close to as original as the cheese in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid".  I also don't usually find
gross funny.  If you do, that's great.  I don't hate gross and I don't judge you for liking gross, but I'll take humor based on puns over buns every time.


This doesn't mean I don't still want to write for kids, or that I don't have an idea for a great story.  I do, absolutely.  I just know that if I can't find good gross, it will never sell and therefore never be made.  Why?  Because whether you think gross is funny or not, the formula for a successful kid’s movie includes gross and nobody in the movie business is going to risk a few million making a genre film that doesn't have it in there.

What's a guy like me to do for inspiration?  He goes to Chik-Fil-A on Friday night with his wife and two youngest kids.  He stands in line waiting to order and when he gets to the register he listens as the littlest says, "I feel sick."  He goes to the men's room with the poor child.  He stands back while the inter-dimensional space that was holding all of that food (no way his stomach was that big) disgorges the lot of it.  He then tries to help the boy feel better and clean up the toilet as quickly as possible - while there is still nobody there.  Then he helps the boy get washed up as a harried man in a suit rushes into the bathroom and locks himself in the stall.  He hopes that all of the bits of lunch were cleaned away because based on the noises, this was an emergency and the stranger didn't look before sitting down to business.  The last bit?  You take the poor sick child to the car to wait while mom gets dinner to go and while you are in the car you give him a tissue because he thinks he might have gotten some barf up his nose.  "Poor little guy," you think.  He blows.  And blows.  And blows.  He scrunches his face up in puzzlement, staring at the tissue.  You see the biggest clod of buggers stuck together ever until you realize it's actually a... banana pepper ring.  "We have to save this for Mom," he says.  “Sure,” says the writer, only half listening as the pieces start to slide into place.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"In this room, there's pain."

My post is a little late this morning.  I was up early, but the schedule was packed.  There was birthday morning tea and coffee, horses to tend to (the cute little girl who is supposed to be watching the THREE of them this weekend was at a sleepover), a neighbor's dog to care for, a cute little girl to pick up from the aforementioned sleepover, and then the highlight of the morning -  a shared near death experience.

We even got to pay for it.

And we're going to do it again.  Madness.
Death Trap, 1982

My wife and I took a "kettlebell" class.  I suppose I should call it a session.  I would have answered any question just to make it stop.  I've done some pretty crazy workouts but the intensity here was impressive.  It was at a Brazilian jiu jitsu place.  I'm ready for the octagon now.

The funniest part of the morning was when we got home and headed from the van to the house.  Getting out of the car was okay, wobbling to the porch wasn't bad, but when we tried to climb the steps we were stopped.  The jello that had been molded into the shape of our legs just didn't want to do any more climbing. We hit the first step at the same time, looked at each other at the same time, and laughed.  I don't know, maybe you had to be there.

Are pouring everything into your writing?  When you are done, are you so drained that you can barely write a coherent grocery list and need time to recover?  I'm not necessarily saying you should write yourself ragged, but write with intensity.  Block out the world and give it everything you've got.  When you are done, you're done - step back and recharge.  You'll hit the next round stronger and more confident.  It's hard to write with intensity, hard to face a blank screen or ignore phones, tweets, email, or Words With Friends.  If it was easy, everyone would BE a writer, not just say they thought about it.

Need more motivation?  While you are writing, you don't have to do a Russian Swing.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Have fun storming the castle."

Today on Must See TV - How 4th grade reading class prepared me for writing this blog.  Say what?  We'll get there.  I didn't try any new shows this week but I have upgraded my assessment of Castle.  The first season was good.  I have no problem recommending it.

But Jon, what does 4th grade have to do with this?  I'm getting to that.  Chill, man.  First let me share a great tip I just learned for recognizing passive and active usage.  That's important because when you are writing a screenplay you are supposed to use active voice.  The simple test, concocted by someone else's 4th grade teacher, is that if you are able to add "by zombies" at the end of the sentence and it still makes sense, you are using passive voice.  It goes something like this:

The chips were eaten by zombies  - passive
They ate the chips by zombies - active

Sure, some of you will think that any sentence with a zombie in it doesn't make sense and others will think that any sentence with a zombie must make sense, but for most of us, this works well.  And just because this is Must See TV Thursday, don't assume that when I wrote chips up there I was talking about Erik Estrada or Larry Wilcox.

Now back to my 4th grade story (by zombies).  Every page in our 4th grade reading workbook had at least one "compare and contrast" question.  Today I will compare and contrast the relationships between the single fathers in "Lie to Me" and "Castle" with their daughters and how those relationships impact the show.

Just to be upfront, I think the writing is much better for the relationship between Richard Castle and his daughter Alexis; she is a more believable character than Emily who is inconsistent in her behavior and interaction with Cal Lightman between episodes.

What's the same?  Both men are single fathers of teenage daughters living comfortably in a major U.S. city fighting crime without actually being a law enforcement officer and have strong emotional ties to a female coworker - there is also an ex-wife that can show up at any minute.  The daughters are set-up to be independent, smart, and confident; often telling their fathers about the way things should be and providing advice for interacting with the world socially - outside of the crime fighting milieu.

The differences, of course, are what set the shows apart.  The relationship is used by both shows for character development of the main protagonist but while LTM uses it to show how inept and self-centered Cal is, Castle uses the relationship to show there is a tender, nurturing side to the playboy image on the outside of Richard.  Of course we see Cal trying hard to be a good father and Richard constantly throws himself into harm's way with little regard for his daughter, but the engines of the shows revolve around these portrayals.

In LTM, the relationship is superficial to the plot in all but a few exceptions where the plot is specifically about Emily.  You could remove all references to the daughter and still have the main story intact.  No interaction at all between the A and B stories.  Castle, on the other hand, makes a father/daughter chat (usually around minute 23) a key aspect to solving the mystery in every episode.  Often it showcases that the cops, with all of the training, miss something important because they don't have families.  Forget the feel good part of showing a healthy relationship for a moment (this isn't a blog about family issues) and think about the writing - that's really good.  It ties everything together - you have scenes that are fun, develop the characters, and advance the story.  You can't take them out because then the crime isn't solved.  It isn't always handled neatly, but structurally it is very sound.

The final contrast I’ll point out here, is in the consistency of the characters.  In LTM, Emily is introduced as strong and independent, yet repeatedly she is shown as the victim or comes crying home to a Daddy that she spends every other episode disregarding.  She goes from fighter to victim without being knocked unconscious and that just doesn't jive.  The evil of the world has not invaded the Castle apartment in any of the episodes I've seen yet so I can't comment on Alexis under pressure, but she has real conversations with her father about things other than boys and parties - I believe a Castle movie would pass the Bechdel Test.  Neither my wife nor I have stopped and said, "That doesn't fit" in a scene between Richard and Alexis.

While it may seem clear that I prefer Castle to LTM, that's not quite true.  I believe that the relationship between the main protagonist and his daughter is better written and utilized in Castle, certainly, but that is just one part of the engine that drives the show.  LTM has a lot going for it, including pretty good writing for the A story - most of the time.  It's also a little less predictable than Castle, I mean, how long does it take to get there?  S/he's wearing a shirt that says, "I did it.  I'm the killer."

What are you watching?  I'm always interested in new leads, as good as the Magnum re-runs are, and, since I didn't make the cut for the Quest Initiative, I've got some time...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

" 'But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.' I assume you dream, Preston. "

Wednesday Movie disclaimer: Spoiler alert for “Equilibrium”.

There was a bit of a mix-up with the Netflix queue this weekend so my original plan of watching The 6th Sense fell through.  Would you believe it isn't it streamable?  Where's Robert L. Ripley when you need him.

I did, however, watch a Christian Bale film upon the occasion of a recommendation from a friend.  Now, I've often had recommendations from friends that I pass on, but in this case the friend also provided a copy of the film and, as I mentioned, The 6th Sense wasn't streamable...  Our first impression (I've been married nearly two decades, most of this blog is plural) of the film was that it was a mash up of Gattaca and The Matrix.  Then, when it became clear that certain elements were more than just archetypal window dressing, the better parents were Fahrenheit 451 and The Matrix - with a bit of Gattaca/1984 thrown in just make things seem original.

Maybe that's a little harsh.  When your story is set in a dystopian future, it's hard to seem fresh.  This film very much suffered from the "same" part of the movie-making axiom "Give me the same but different."  I read the script for The Matrix two weeks ago and the stories weren't related at all, it was the visuals.  Black leather and kung fu.  It could have been a Tarantino film if there had been spaghetti western music... and a lot of gratuitous 'R' content.  The plot was ***Major Spoiler*** Guy Montag.  100%.  Right down to Sean Bean's book.  I'm surprised it wasn't billed as a remake.  They were called Clerics instead of Firemen, but the character arc of the protagonist and significant plot points were nearly identical.

That's not a bad thing, I thought 451 was a great story (movie was okay) and even wrote "the last chapter" as a project in school.  Equilibrium also benefited from remodeled sets/props for its view of the future so it looked fresh – okay, not old (and I was startled to learn it was released in 2002).  Taye Diggs was the biggest surprise for me.  He played his part very well, keeping us guessing to the very end which side he was going to end up on.  As I mentioned, Sean Bean made an appearance but he's gotten into what I can only describe as a "Shakespearean Melancholy Rut" and while he delivered poise in spades, he was completely underutilized if not actually wasted.

In fairness, it wasn't all 'same' - there was a bit of different too, but that seemed centered around the execution of the action sequences.  I suppose you could argue that getting an entire society to take Prozac all the time is a twist, but then we're back to Gattaca, the premise of Sean of the Dead, and, as I recall, that was sort of Max Von Sydow's plan in Strange Brew.  There was nothing surprising in “the big twist” if you’d seen it done well in Freejack.

Despite all of the familiarity, the writing was good enough to keep us engaged (and awake) wondering which of the familiar paths it would eventually head down.  Further, the story was compelling enough that, even knowing what those paths were; we were still interested in making the journey.  It wasn't the movie we were planning to watch, or the movie we were expecting when we started, but I wasn’t asking for my life back at the end.  It did not suffer from the typical sci-fi maladies of confusing plot, preachy exposition, or under/over budgeting.

Note: We did not watch the theatrical or rental release of the film, it was an airplane edit with the foul language, sexually explicit content, and graphic violence/gore removed.  I'll be talking about this type of content in a future post, but I can't help wondering if the lack of ejectors kept us more fully engaged in the story.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Yeah, incentives are important. I learned that in rehab."

I took yesterday off from my day job.  Summer hasn't officially started by calendar date, but the weather and attitudes around my house don't pay any attention to such man-made lines of demarcation.  In short, it was the perfect day to take out the boat for the first cruise of the season.   Highlights of the trip included #3 catching serious air in the tube and landing without crashing, turtles balancing on top of each other, a giant dead fish, fossilized predatory fish teeth on the secluded beach, osprey diving beneath the surface, and the sense of being alone in the world that only comes on the wide water during the week when everyone else has to be at work.
 
Yes, I do like this movie.


I considered bringing my iPad to do some writing but thought I probably wouldn't get a chance.  It's amazing how time just flows by on the water.  I was right, there was never a moment where I thought, "I could be writing."  I don’t mind, I don’t hit the waves with a vessel filled with young urchins to spend the time with my nose buried in a book or a screen – it’s to watch said urchins flounder about.  As my eldest (#1) said at one point, with the younger children + friends scrambling fore and aft, “This is utter chaos.”  I calmly retorted that he was mistaken; udder chaos is not knowing which cow you are milking.
The tool I specifically want to cover this Tuesday is the iPad.  When I first saw it I thought, "Hmm, neat.  I think I want one but what would I use it for?"  Then one came into my possession and I started using it.  It was neat, but I wasn't sure what it was for.  It took me about six months to figure out.  They should call them iOpiates.  Now I don't think I could function without one.  It fills a niche that my laptop can't.  Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things that the laptop does that the little iPad is completely under equipped for, but the inverse is true as well.  It all comes down to form.  The iPad is actually the size of a notebook.  I can write on it.  It fits on my lap on the train and in a plane.  Maybe even on a boat but I haven't tried that yet.  (As you know.)  It is always on.  There's a convenience to that little feature for creative people.  Like a pen and index card.   Being able to just start writing when you have something to write is important. 
Of course the hardware alone isn't enough.  You need the write app.  Next Tuesday I’ll tell you about Storyist, and how it changed my life.

Monday, June 17, 2013

"I have always liked... Cowabunga."

It's Monday again but you aren't allowed to ask where the weekend went, you're a writer.  You have to remember because that's the source of your inspiration for writing.  You don't have to remember silly little details, like what you had for breakfast or the license plate number of the van you are just absolutely convinced is being driven by a terrorist (full size cargo style according to Jack Bauer).  I'm talking about anecdotal memories and since you will be drawing on them for material later, try to remember them as entire scenes.  You'll want more than just the smell of fresh baked bread, what about the feeling?  The words people were using around you?  What did it make you remember?

I was running with my wife on Saturday and we passed the paddock where my daughter's horse lives.  He was standing in the corner, very still.  She called to him and his eyes suddenly fluttered, he shook a bit, and then came trotting over.  It was pretty funny.  He was sleeping.  Standing up.  I always thought that was a joke.  It isn't.  I continue to be amazed by the personality of this animal too.  He is very smart and has an incredible memory.  You should always be very polite when you meet a horse.  It will remember you forever.


We also went hiking this weekend.  Had the choice of a new trail or one we'd been on before.  The conversation was really interesting for me to listen to.  One of my children was immediately arguing on behalf of the unknown.  There was resistance.  We ultimately decided on the unknown with the promise that if it wasn't fun we'd go to the other one.  What struck me was that, once committed to the adventuring course, when we were confronted with forks in the trail, Robert Frost was quoted and I was advised to take the road less traveled.  Oh, how free we are when fear no longer binds us.  We encountered a tortoise hidden in the leaves (we could tell because of his direction of travel - had he been going the other way he'd have been an awayfromoise instead of a twoardoise).

The final bit of adventuring was at the big box hardware store.  I  wrote up five clues for a scavenger hunt so while all we needed was paint, we still got the fun of wandering all over the store looking at neat things.  Usually this is not something my children enjoy (the trip to the store) but with this twist it was - even though there was a bit of complaining that, "If we've guessed the clue, why do we have to walk all the way across the store?"  Well, it was a scavenger hunt!  The quote of the night came from my youngest however, who was on his hundredth trip to the store.  "WOW!  They sell everything here."  He'd never been looking for anything before so he'd never taken the time to see anything.

What about you?  Where did you weekend go?  Were you looking?  Did you see anything?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Guest Post: Father's Day

Today's guest post is by a reader of Rejected and Alone.  I think her writing is very good and expect that you will agree.  I encourage you to encourage her, she was hesitant to let me share her work here.  I'm glad she agreed.  You will be too.

The Longest Father's Day.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"We filmed for hours and it's only going to be like, a minute of video."

I've been working on a project that I keep wanting to blog about but have been waiting for the perfect moment.  It isn't that I'm superstitious, exactly, because I'm not, exactly, but waiting until we were beyond the starting phase and a finished product was nearly in hand seemed the more responsible approach.

What am I chattering about?  A few months ago I envisioned a short film based on the mascot of our VBS this year - Spy Guy.  The basic idea was that instead of just having somebody in sunglasses stand up front and talk about the event, we could show a movie that detailed his adventures getting there.  Then we could use the movie on Facebook to advertise the VBS.

Disclaimer:  The following is a dramatization of a very amateur production.
Spy Guy and The Agents

I pitched the idea to the VBS program manager and got permission to proceed.  (That's the word they use in the film industry when you have a story but somebody else need to give the go ahead for some part of the project.)  I wrote the script and got the man who plays Spy Guy to agree it was a good story and he was on board.  Then I started pitching to "producers" in the church.  I found one and we started putting together a shooting schedule, did location scouting, casting, props, the whole 9 yards.  On the first day of shooting I was surprised to find myself directing.  What did I know about directing?  Nothing - except calling, "Action!"  And that I needed to get a new chair.

Didn't matter.  We had a blast.  Most of us, anyway.  Today's quote came from the set when one of the younger actors couldn't believe he gave up a Saturday "FOR THIS?"  Got some very good footage though.  I learned a lot about how to transfer the page to the screen.  It really impacted my writing perspective and I expect the rewrite I'm embarking on now will be much, much better for the experience.

So where are we in the project?  The filming is done and edited into a wonderful silent film.  Now we are just waiting for the soundtrack.  Did I tell you that in addition to dreaming of being an A-List writer, I also pretend to be a musician?

Friday, June 14, 2013

"I love it when a plan comes together."

It's Friday.  All of my kids are done with school with for the summer, the massive storm that was supposed to flatten DC didn't happen (sorry Marvel fans), and today's original writing is a complete scene in feature script format.

I've been reading a lot lately about the importance of pre-writing and planning.  After yesterday's post, I sketched out this story as a straight up "flash fiction" piece and had to laugh at myself.  I kept struggling with tenses.  Screenplays use the present tense for everything (except certain lines of dialogue) and most fiction is written in the past tense.  The 300 words I spewed out were all over the time-space continuum.

What I found, however, was that having written that yesterday, and reflecting on it this morning prior to boarding the train, I was able to write the entire scene straight through without having to stop and think about what was going to happen.  I already knew the characters and the start/finish lines.  It freed me up to edit and tweak the dialogue and action once it was finished.

Those suggestions about pre-writing?  Good advice.  I encourage you to take the time to plan your ideas.  They don’t stifle creativity if you understand planning is about picking a place to start and end with an idea of what you want to cover along the way.  Be willing to veer off the path when it seems like a good idea, if you get lost it won’t matter because… you’ve got a map.

The experts say that a well-crafted scene is like a microcosm of the film itself, with a dramatic arc, conflict, and change for the characters involved.  Have I accomplished that?  You be the judge – I present the super-short one scene film, “Desserted”.


Desserted
By Jon Stark
June 14, 2013

FADE IN:
INT. CANYON STEAK HOUSE DINING ROOM - DAY
Linen table clothes, real knives, and waiters that bring you water without being asked.  The business lunch herd heading back to work.
A thirty something couple lingers with coffee and smiles.  We meet KEVIN, rolex and rumpled.  LYDIA in black dress and careful make-up.
Kevin
You know you want some, just get it.
She looks up from the dessert menu.  Locks on his smile.
KEVIN
It's why we come here.
lydia
I don't think I do.
KEVIN
Then why do you keep looking at it?
LYDIA
Because right now I want it.
(laughing)
It's later I won't.
KEVIN
You're a nut.
She draws back.
LYDIA
I'm serious.  Right now it looks delicious and if I get it I'll probably enjoy every moment, but I know that I don't really want it.  When I'm done I'll...
He leans in, reaches for her hand.  She pulls it away, but holds his gaze.
KEVIN
So now you're saying you don't like cheese cake?
LYDIA
You don't get it.  When we came here it was all I could think about... but right now, even looking at it, even wanting it, I know that I'll regret it the next time I put my dress on.
He stifles a chuckle.  Then, comprehension, arriving fashionably late.
KEVIN
Lyd...
Her eyes are full - of color, of tears, of him.
LYDIA
(very quietly)
Every time I look in the mirror I ask myself why I keep coming back here.
He turns away, looking at anything but her.  The waiter reengages, misreading his helpless face.
waiter
Are we interested in anything else this afternoon?  Perhaps the chocolate cherry cheese cake?
Kevin stares at her hopefully.  She looks down, following the path of her tears.
KEVIN
No.  It looks like we're finished here.

FADE OUT.
The End

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"There's always money in the banana stand."

My goodness, another Must See TV Thursday?  This week I have a confession to make.  I've succumbed to the buzz and tried "Arrested Development".  I started with the first episode of the first season.  Sorry, Goose, WE started with the first episode of the first season.

If you've missed they hype, here's the logline version (I'm trying to stay in practice): A satirical comedy is  canceled after its third season causing great moaning and gnashing of teeth until one fan takes over an online movie streaming empire and creates a fourth season.

A lot of what I've read about the new season focuses on how Netflix has ruined the show.  Hogwash, I say.  There was no fourth season before Netflix and anyone who knows anything about math knows that you can't ruin nothing.  I think those fans let expectation get the better of them and then took advantage of high bandwidth to vent.  How often, really, is the fourth season of any show better than the first couple of seasons?

The show itself, in the four (five?) episodes I've watched so far, is right up my humor alley.  My eldest son really likes it too.  My wife has reserved judgment, as she often wisely does (never fear, she'll come around), saying that it's alright but it's not the Office.  Fair enough, but - and meaning absolutely no slight to my very insightful bride,



 
of course it's not the office - let's compare engines for a moment.  The office is about one totally messed up person putting a group of fairly normal (each has just one quirk) people into awkward situations they need to get out of.  Arrested Development has a group of people messing things up and a single fairly normal person trying to fix everything.  The style of the filming and writing, however, is identical.  The setting is different, the characters are completely different - at least this early on - but the shows are very much related in my mind.

I don't know exactly where it's going, can't tell you precisely what it's about, but it makes me LOL out loud and nobody has made me cringe quite the way the world's greatest boss, Michael Scott, always did.  I missed it ten years ago, but it's aged well and can hold its own against the current crop.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"She wanted me to tell you, she saw you dance."

It’s Wednesday, welcome to the inaugural “Tales from the Script".  I thought it would be fitting to share from The 6th Sense – you know, script/crypt/dead people?  If you haven't seen this film, I encourage you to do so - and to read no further until you have.

Love him or hate him, M. Night Shyamalan created a truly masterful work in this film.  I remember being completely gob smacked when I saw it.  Not just because of the twist, but because it was so well done.  Bruce Willis was very well cast and played his part perfectly.  We'd seen him attempt the "mentor to a little boy" before in Mercury Rising and it was okay – the hot chocolate still moves my heart, but here he really brought the developing relationship with the child to life and showed the transformation of Dr. Malcolm Crowe with unexpected poignancy.

If you have never read a movie script, this is a wonderful place to start.  It actually gave me chills reading it.  Scripts read fast, often faster than watching the film, but provide all sorts of insight that you don't get from seeing the movie (or reading the book).  It isn't that reading it is better, just different.  If you need help finding a copy send me an email - I should be able to hook you up.  (I read this one using the Nook app on my iPad.)
 

The specific point I'd like to make, other than the obvious that there is no wasted space in the story (every scene does more than one thing) and it feels alive - how's that for irony? - is that as an author, we get to choose not just the words we use, but the events we write about.  Even writing non-fiction, there is always more to the story than what we have the time and space to relate.  Choose your pieces carefully.

In this film there is a scene where Malcolm and Cole are in the hospital and Malcolm does a magic trick.  At this point in the script we need, structurally, to see a change in their relationship and in their characters but writing three scenes would be cumbersome - and long.  A single scene accomplishing these actions is best - but what scene?  They could go out for ice cream.  They could play bingo.  They could spit into the river from a bridge.  Shyamalan chose magic.  There's a payoff later in the story that wouldn't have been there with anything else.  It’s part of what sets him apart as a master story teller.

It's also a very well written scene.  He didn't choose a goofy trick, or something so complicated that it couldn't be described.  Instead, it's a trick that is easy for the reader to visualize yet remains active for the characters and is engaging to watch on screen.  Oh, and the trick?  It's like Malcolm himself and we learn even more about how the character views himself.  The simple choice about how to handle a story development point resulted in a powerful moment between the two main characters and I suspect that, when you read it, you won't be thinking about character arcs or plot points, you'll be thinking about whom you can show the trick to.

So what am I reading now?  The one about UBL - can't remember the name it's so mesmerizing.

Every Wednesday I will apply my stunning intellect and biting wit to another recently consumed script in "Reel Life Stories of the Hollywood Patrol", or my travelogue, "Where the Reel Meets the Road".  Maybe I should just stick with "Tales From the Script"?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Hello, this is Killian. Give me the Justice Department, Entertainment Division. "

I've been all over the place about today's post.  I know it's about writing tools, after all, this is Tuesday.  Right?  Tuesday?  Yes.  Okay.  Can't take anything for granted after last week's fiasco.    The thing is, there are so many tools.  I thought, "I can't write about tools, I'll run out things in two weeks."  But that isn't true.  Now I have the opposite problem.  So I'm stalling with a long introductory paragraph.

The greatest tool of any successful writer is routine.  How's that for a broad statement?  I'm not the first to say it, but I firmly believe it.  I find lots of other things very useful, but not of them do me any good at all without routine because without routine I don't have the habit of writing.  What good are a stack of notebooks and a pack of sharpened pencils if I don't sit down and use them?  Regularly.


Put another way, why invent the chisel if I'm not going to chip away at the cave wall?

Routine alone, of course, is not enough.  It has to be routine with structure and the fundamental building block of your writing routine's structure must be purpose.  If you don't know why you are writing then you will struggle with keeping to your routine and your product will leave you dissatisfied.  I certainly won't like it.  I'll say something like, "Wow, this seems pointless."  Not you though, as your friend I'd probably say, "Hmm.  Maybe you should make your protagonist more active?" or "Your descriptions make me feel like I'm there, but what's going on?"

You should pick a good purpose too, not just any old one will do.  You need to find one that has real meaning and will motivate you.  I compare writing purpose and routine to exercise purpose and routine.  For me, it was much easier to stick to my running program back when people were trying to kill me on a daily basis.  Now that my biggest occupational hazard is not getting whiteout on my tie, running every day just isn't a priority.  Running every week isn't a priority.  I've even gained a couple of pounds.

Literally.

I took a long break from writing fiction.  I was still writing a lot, but it was only professional, lacked the routine of the everyday, and I had to settle in to each project.  Six months ago I changed that.  I write a couple of thousand words MORE, on purpose, every day, and my vocational assignments are a breeze – something I can just step into.  Get into the routine, find the groove.  Become the arrow that is not aimed.

Get on your butt and do something.

Monday, June 10, 2013

"Guts."

It's Monday - best to just dive in.

Inspiration, as I always say, or at least have started to say out loud, just like lots and lots of other people - who are quite right, I might add - is all around us.  What's interesting me right now is the gray area between the people who see that, the people who don't, and the people who don't, but when you point it out, they get it.  Confused?

I was following a discussion this week where someone asked for some good, creative ideas quickly because he had a paper due on Monday (today, actually).  I thought it must be a joke - how could you seriously be taking a writing class, consider yourself that much of a writer, and not be able to come up with any sort of an idea that could be crafted into a project that was short enough it could be completed in less than a week?  These sorts of ideas are everywhere around us.  I'm writing in a train station at this very moment and a young family is discussing the pros and cons of which museum to visit (while I struggle with the proper spelling of museum) but with a twist, it seems that Mom knows someone who works at one of them.  That's a story that could go in a thousand directions.  I was just distracted by two people entering at the same time, a man in uniform and another in shorts and t-shirt.  They know each other, but why?  And how long?  Did one of them donate a kidney to the other?

I see these stories and ask these questions all of the time.  Most of the people I know that don't write, don't.  But then there's this anomaly, "Give me an idea so I can tell a story about it."  Can you be a story teller without ideas?  Please, no snipes at Hollywood, this is a serious question.  Sure, you can be a re-teller of stories.  You can be an actor and breathe great life into Rumpelstiltskin, a wizard with a flashlight that makes any campfire tale terrifying, or gifted with a memory that lets you repeat, nearly word for word, the great works of William Shakespeare or Beverly Cleary.  But without being able to see and capture, in the moment, that part of the world that is the story, and incorporate it into the story, do you really have a voice?  Are you bringing anything new?  I'm inclined to think it's nothing more than a string of clich├ęs.  You've probably noticed this, in your reading, with a book that you describe as "being very well written, but it just doesn't, I don't know..."
You HAVE to see this movie.


I'm not saying everyone should always be able to just sit down and pop out a story, or that every idea is great.  However, I do believe that the inspiration for ideas for stories, the inspiration for great ideas for wonderful stories, is everywhere.  This past weekend I was on a path that I have walked and jogged and biked a hundred times.  It's lovely.  Nice setting.  Big difference this time was the giant copperhead.  Yes, venomous snake.  I totally sympathized with Pumbaa.  Inspiration - it's not a story, it's a setting but the story comes from asking, "What happen/ed here?"

I'll leave you with the power of a visual image, and the dynamics of storytelling.  I'm on the train now (time flies while you are writing) and the last time I was in this seat, I looked out to see a bald eagle flying alongside me.  The river is very wide here, man does not intrude between the tracks and the shore.  The raptor flew along with me for quite a distance until the rails pulled me inland.  He was going somewhere.  Where?  Why?  Who else was watching him?  Who couldn't watch him any longer?  That's a story, a scene, a catalyst.

If you have chosen to be a writer and can't decide what to write about, or can't find the variety you need to make your characters unique, or or OR...  Unplug your ear buds, stop playing Bejeweled on your iPhone, and look around you.

It's Monday.  Be inspired.