Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Go help people. You're good at it."

I'm not going to complain about my cold today because I made a remarkable discovery.  If I sleep in an extra half hour, I still miss my train.  What in the world was I thinking?  Clearly, I wasn't.  I may have to print a retraction to my post yesterday praising (sort of) Tylenol Cold & Sinus.  You may be able to function, but it is very much at reduced capacity.

Fortunately, I have a failsafe system built into my schedule so there is still another train to catch, but my goodness.  Seriously, what was I thinking?  Perhaps it was a secret, subconscious desire to sit peacefully in a nearly empty station sipping conciliatory coffee for a spell.  The coffee is actually pretty good this morning and the warmth is very soothing on my scratchy throat - whoops, forgot I wasn't going to complain about the cold.

Did I mention that I was parking when the train rolled in and blocked my path to get to it?  It's a terrible system.  My wife is probably reading this and thinking, "But isn't that what happened to you yesterday?"  She would be correct with one significant difference.  Okay, two.  1) I got to sleep an extra half hour to miss it today, and 2) I sprung for the coffee this morning.

Hey - today is Wednesday!  Let's see what I've got for Tale's From the Script.

I read a script this week for an original story that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I sincerely hope that it will be made into a film and, when it does, I will encourage everyone to watch it.  It wasn't perfect, but the story was compelling and the "issues" were nothing that disrupted things.  I expect that if the
person who wrote it continues to write that we will definitely see some of his work in the future - even if it isn't this particular story.

We also watched a movie called "The Impossible" with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.  Two things (here I go again) really struck me - 1) I liked the movie a lot even though it is not the sort of genre or style I usually go for, and 2) I thought Naomi Watts was someone completely different.

The film is based on the true story of a family that was on vacation when the Tsunami struck Thailand on December 26, 2004.  Yes, it was that long ago.  Just writing about it now - remembering then and the film, gave me chills.  It's a European film and the lack of Hollywood was evident throughout.  This was a pure telling of an amazing story.

The special effects were seamless - there was only once where they drew me out of the story and that was to wonder how in the world they created a Tsunami!  (There was a documentary on the DVD that explained it.)  The flood was brutally intense - especially for me after my near drowning experience a couple of weeks ago.  The devastation was oppressive, and there was quite a bit of gore but the tone was different than a film like "Die Hard".  Most of the picture is filled with people who are covered in a mix of mud and blood.  This is not a film for children, people with pacemakers, back problems, or if you are, or think you may be, pregnant.  You know, typical roller-coaster disclaimer.  But I’m serious about it not being for children.

I learned a funny thing about coincidence watching this film.  The standard rule is that you (as the writer) may use coincidence to get your protagonist INTO trouble, but not OUT of trouble.  This film used it for both - they were coincidentally vacationing where the Tsunami hit and then time after time, “The Impossible” happened - total coincidence.  But it worked.  Because it was a true story - every coincidence led me to say, "Wow, they were so lucky." and I was left amazed rather than feeling cheated.  I did remark to my wife at one point that if, "this turns out to be like 'The Perfect Storm' I'm going to be very upset."  - mostly becuase the coincidence would have been too much if nobody survived.

It was a troubling film to watch in places, and I was a bit upset at times, but it was nothing like "The Perfect Storm".  I think I recommend this film but with several caveats, not the least of which is that it will leave you feeling like you've been hit by a train.  It wasn't depressing like "Grace is Gone" but getting to the end was exhausting.  This is not a film of instant gratification - "Oh gee, I feel so happy now, let's go out for a romantic dinner" - but rather partaking in a horrible shared experience that causes genuine reflection on what in life matters most.  Many films shoot for that mark and fail.  This one delivers in spades.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Big pharmaceuticals are right up there with the arms dealers."

Tylenol Cold & Sinus.  That's this week's tool of the trade.  It comes in lots of flavors and with two types of additives - the stimulant (Daytime) and depressant (Nighttime).  Or the upper and downer versions.  Without it, you are discouraged from writing and instead prefer to lie on the couch all day.

They seem to work backwards on me.  But not all of the time - so I will continue to take the Day during the Day and Night during the Night.  Maybe it’s the dye in them that counteracts the other 
Didn't the film, but the book was very good.
drugs?  I’m a bit hazy.

There are old people in blue coats that provide security in most of the places I've worked for the last very long time and in one of those offices a co-worker used to give them a hard time.  About a lot of things.  I'm wondering now if he was afraid of getting old?

Anyway, he would tease these old people - in that office they were all men - about their pills and failing minds.  There was one who did have a failing mind but that's a different story.  My co-worker (I'll stop short of calling him a friend, he wasn't) would say things like, "Did you remember to take your pill this hour?" or "Aren't the amber ones really hard to swallow?"

Generally, it was just mean spirited fun but he did have one line that was very funny.  Which is to say that one time, he nailed the delivery.  The rest of the time it was just stupid.  He had to head out for a long drive and turned to me, as seriously as could be, and said, "Make sure you tell Jim to take the green pill.  Taking a blue and yellow at the same time isn’t the same."

Okay, so it isn't funny the way I told it today.  Sue me.  I've got a cold and I'm cranky.

Oh, and I forgot my watch.

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Mankind survived the last ice age. We're certainly capable of surviving this one. All depends on whether or not we're able to learn from our mistakes."

There are few things I find more depressing than a summer cold.  Being sick at Christmas is one of them, but really, wasting a week or two of the summer with a sore throat and sinus pain is so wrong.  I mean, summer is when you are supposed to be stung by jelly fish.

To be fair, there are a great many things that I find far more depressing than a cold – whatever time of year it shows up - but none of those things are happening to me right now so the cold gets top billing.
Now that's a cold.

I’m looking for the silver lining – after all, this is Monday and I’m supposed to be blogging about inspiration.  The first and obvious bit of silver is that I’m not dead.  Nor is anyone close to me.  That certainly makes the sunshine more enjoyable.  Wait – the sun is shining?  That’s cool.  So today isn’t so bad.

But the sore throat.  I never get sore throats.  Of course, the blueberry coffee I just made is soothing so that’s not so bad right now.  Perhaps after I gag down some Tylenol Cold and Sinus I’ll feel better.  Or – I could enjoy the sunshine, the time with my family, and squeeze in a bit of writing between naps.

That would require me to stop being cranky.  I would have to choose to accept the great things about today instead of dwelling on the only bit of unpleasantness.

When I was about 13 I submitted a short story to a magazine.  It was rejected, but after the short, typed form letter, there was almost a full page of handwritten notes talking about what was good in my writing and what I should work on.  It was my first rejection letter and I thought that was normal.  I foolishly ignored the personal touch and focused instead on the rejection.  I've received dozens of rejections since and only a couple had anything even close to a personal touch.  I didn't realize what I’d gotten.

I hope I don’t squander the beautiful day around me like that.  My children will be older tomorrow and I’ll have to go back to work, but "right now" is up to me.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

"You think you know somebody after 25 years. And then one day, Israeli Intelligence comes to the door."

I hope that nobody got the wrong idea from yesterday’s post.  We’re shuffling house guests around and trying to get back to the river on the boat as well as getting cars worked on and a screen door repaired.  (Notice the “fix the house” project is last – I aim to keep it that way for as long as possible.)  Anyway, the disruptions were all in the logistics of who got where and when.  There was only one death involved but we didn’t know her so condolences are being passed rather than received.

To catch you up on the writing bit of this writing blog - I have a short script that is nearly done which is as close to finished as any writing project ever is until it is either published or filmed.  I’ve spent some time working on the revision of the feature length but that hasn’t really moved forward, just a lot of sideways.  I’m also preparing “notes” for a very good script that was sent to me for review.

“Notes” are comments – critiques really – about a script and cover topics as diverse as typos and plot elements.  In this particular case, there was only a missing ‘s’ in the entire script.  It’s a well written script with a powerful story and incredibly tight descriptions.  I’m actually a little intimidated about doing the notes because it’s so much better than anything I’ve written but, holding to the idea that teaching is different than doing, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to provide something helpful.  Giving good notes is a huge reputation builder and I’ve only got 10 years left before retirement so I need to build that reputation as quickly as possible J

Enough about dreams of caviar, I have to go to Lowe’s and get a part for my screen door.

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can't come."

I'm supposed to be on island time today.  Didn't work out that way, everything changed last night.  Nothing terrible, but the entire weekend - including today - was completely rearranged.  The older I get, the more disruptive that is.  I'm good with it though, after my nap.

Thank you everyone.  Overnight R&A crossed the 2000 hit mark.  That's amazing to me and I really
appreciate your loyalty.

Today's is a very short piece, inspired by a conversation I had with #3 and 4 in the truck this afternoon picking up #1 from camp.  #2, of course, is out shopping...

Half Full
By Jonathan Stark
July, 2013

Nobody noticed, but today was very special.  Statistics tell us that someone, somewhere in the world, has died in the time it took to tell you this.  The "official", kind of old statistic on the internet, is actually 1.8 people per second.  In the heart beat you stopped to let that sink in, 4 people died.  We don't know most of them so for us, the only statistic that matters is how often someone we care about dies.  That's why today doesn't seem special to anyone.

Statistics are an average, to arrive at the 1.8 number, "they" calculated the total number of deaths during the year and then divided it out for a monthly rate, daily rate, hourly rate, minute, and the morbid 2 per second.  But in any given second there may not be 1.8 people dying.  Nor 105 in any given minute.  Nobody notices though, if it's 5 in a second or none - we only care about the death of those close to us.  That's why today has gone unnoticed.

I'm happy for today, a day when the statistics were beaten and nobody died.  It should be a national holiday.  Of course, statistically speaking, tomorrow's going to be a bear.  A lot of people who didn't notice today will be painfully aware of tomorrow.  The friends and family of 151,650 people, to be precise.  But I won't worry about that today.  I'm not a half-empty kind of person.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The "Greatest American Hero" was a teacher.

I used to watch "The Greatest American Hero" when I was a kid.  I had very fond memories.  A couple of years ago (after finding "Sledgehammer") I queued it up on Netflix.  It came.  Memories were shattered.  If only it was as good as campy.  It was so bad my children wouldn't even watch it.  No matter, I still have [some of] my memories.

One of things I remember is Robert Culp as the FBI agent.  He was cool.  Since I couldn't fly (not just because the instruction book was lost) I would often either be him when we all were playing, or I would be working with him or out to rescue him when it was just me and my over-developed imagination.  Whichever way it went, being an FBI agent was where it was at.  If you had told me
 then that I would feel the way I do today about having to go to a meeting in the J. Edgar Hoover building, I'd have laughed at you.  Until you told me how early I would have to get up to catch the series of trains that would get me there on time for it.  I suspect that if it was scheduled for two hours later I'd have a completely attitude.  Then again, maybe not.  Getting through security is always a pain in the neck.

Of course this "Must See TV Thursday" isn't about "The Greatest American Hero".  Nope, it's about "Castle".  Sorry, you are probably sick of it but I saw the niftiest trick last night in the episode titled "A Rose for Everafter".  It was a total character piece; Richard meets up with "the one who got away" because one of her bridesmaids is murdered just before the wedding.  There is still a lot of chemistry so the bulk of the show is about why he is so shallow most of the time now - the depth of feeling he is capable of and the reason why he doesn't bother with it.

The perspective changes a bit, but I really felt that the perspective of the narrative was primarily that of Kate Beckett - the plot drive was her discovering him and her feelings for him through this woman that comes out of nowhere and shakes up her world.  The scenes with Beckett and the Bride are very well done.  Kate is clearly learning about herself and trying desperately to control her emotions.

The episode was written very well - there's a rule in TV that goes something like, "Keep Mulder and Scully apart for as long as possible".  This tale brought Castle and Beckett so close together that it was clear to anyone watching she is falling for him in a big way BUT the writers still managed to keep them apart.  That's not the trick though.

The trick was how they closed up the mystery.  Since the bulk of the episode was about love, not murder, there wasn't much time spent on the case itself.  We got clues but they were ambiguous and mostly about whom the victim was.  When it came time for the big reveal, you had no chance to get it - just luck - so they introduced the last bit with Detective Ryan announcing, "I've got the surveillance tape and you are never going to guess who it is."

That clear, that on-the-nose.  "You'll never guess."  I'm about to give you a big, unsatisfying reveal that essentially ties up all of the loose ends with coincidence (huge no-no) and I'm drawing attention to that fact.  Yet it worked.  Exceedingly well.  Totally believable.  The line was delivered in the right way by the right character and although it was a bit Scooby-Dooish, the explanation of the crime was reasonable and fit the clues of the story.  You could say they got away with it DESPITE the meddling kids and their mangy dog.

It isn't the sort of thing you can get away with every week, but here it worked.  I think it's part of the other rule of all fiction writing - "You get one gimmie".  You can have one totally far-fetched, impossible, no-way thing in your story.  As long as you execute it well.  In this episode, running into the ex-girlfriend at her high-society wedding was completely believable - no coincidence involved - and just to make sure, we get bonus dialogue with Rick and the bride's mother (after her character has already been established) showing how she and Castle feel about each other.

I'm a little worried about where this is going though - with so many seasons ahead, there’s the hint that this will turn into a "Hart to Hart" and that will completely change the show's [very high performance] engine.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Well, that's the point, stupid, otherwise it wouldn't be an adventure!"

Today's installment of “Tales From the Script” is off in a slightly different direction - I read a very interesting article about comic books and it really got me thinking.  It's probably got you thinking too, as in, "I don't like comic books, never have, why should I keep reading?"

That's a fair question with a simple answer.  “Because understanding what makes a good comic helps us to understand what makes a good movie.”  Not that good comics make good movies, mind you (Robin Williams proved that…).  They are two different mediums.  It would be like looking at a statue and saying that it would make a great oil painting.

I’ll admit that I was into comics when I was a teenager - Marvel with just a couple of Dark Horse.  I followed five different books and often bought others for their "collectability".  They collected
A comic book panel.  You KNOW what's going on.
 alright – dust - until I gave them to my cousin.  But not all of them.  Some are truly works of art and still collect dust in my closet.  The really special ones are hidden at the bottom of my sock drawer.

Comics are very hard to write because, opposite of screenwriting, you can't show motion.  There's also no soundtrack.  Dialogue is very limited.  The article called it "story telling by strobe" and that's quite insightful.  I read a lot of really bad comics.  The art was good in some, but the stories were underdeveloped or there was no real character arc or plot twists.  You may think it doesn’t matter – they’re just for kids – but a well written comic is as engaging as any “real book” or movie.

You may be thinking, "Come on, Jon.  Do any comics actually have those things?"  Absolutely.  I've talked about Chris Claremont before but I'll give him another shout-out.  The man was a genius for scripting comics. When he left the “Uncanny X-men” it was obvious and I stopped reading it a few issues later.  I had a friend who got me reading “The Punisher”.  The story telling was great, the art was run-of-the-mill.  When “Punisher: War Journal” came out, he went bonza over it.  I never really cared for it though.  Sure, the art was better, but the stories weren't very good.  Interestingly, he is a graphic artist while I'm a writer - both of us were already committed to our path at that time.

To tell a story with a comic you have to be very efficient.  Each panel has to communicate a tremendous amount of information.  You have to use everything available - the exact position of a character in the scene, the facial expressions of everyone, and the perfect word of dialogue...  You have to pick the one frozen moment that will provide the greatest amount of story impact.

Thinking in comic book terms will make your writing tighter.  When you don't have space, you don't waste it.  Words can be like kibble for us - the "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" sort of kibble, not the dog food.  The first X-men movie was pretty good but then the franchise got bloated - they stopped focusing on comic storytelling and went after movie special effects and brand recognition.  The “Punisher: War Journal” of the big screen.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Jack, having you as a friend is a little bit like owning a pet disease."

This Tuesday I'd like to talk about a very valuable tool - the watch.  Actually, not so much the watch, more like punctuality.  Yesterday I missed my train twice.  That's a new record.  I'm careful to never plan on taking the "last train" so for me this was an inconvenience rather than an emergency, but it still ended up costing me quite a bit of time.  How did I miss the train?  I didn't use my watch correctly.

In real life I don't think watches are all that.  I went about for  three years without wearing one when I turned 25.  Not really a protest against aging, just that I had discovered the freedom of not wearing one after having mine smashed during a scuffle - one that I didn't replace for a month due to economic necessity and then never replaced because, well, it's nice to not have the pressure of time wearing on you constantly.

My children actually got me a replacement watch as a gift and I spent several weeks deciding whether or not I was going to put it on.  I did.  Now I'm a middle level bureaucrat courting an ulcer.  Go figure.  Actually, there's no ulcer that I'm aware of but thinking about getting an ulcer is very
My hair looked like that.
 stressful and ties my stomach in knots.  Gnots?  Okay, now I'm worried about something else.

Richard Dean Anderson said, in an interview with Reader's Digest which I read when his TV show was the thing, "When I come to a yellow light I floor it.  You never know what you might miss if you stop for the red light."  What did I miss out on by not making my train on time?  In the morning I missed out on 1/2 an hour's work.  Gee, not something I'd run a red light for (although many people cross from the train station to the office complex on red sending oncoming cars into a honky frenzy).  In the evening I actually had a seat and air conditioning that worked.  Again, not sure I came up second best.

I'm not sure that punctuality is over-rated, but there's a lot to be said for living on "island time".  I have a meeting on Thursday that I don't control and can't be late for.  Missing the train would be very bad.  I will need to be punctual to be successful.  But what about the other days?  If I'm so focused on looking at my watch that I don't see the world around me, how successful can I really be?  Am I being successful at the right things?

Now I'm thinking that instead of a watch, I should be talking about an alarm clock - you can ignore it when it's just sitting there, but when there's something important coming up, it will let you know.  I bet MacGyver could make an alarm clock from my watch, a strip of duct tape, and the whistle of the train I missed.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"If you keep looking at me, you'll see me kill you."

My family loves beach combing.  Searching for rocks, shells, and bits of flotsam entertain them for hours.  There is a beach we go to on our boat that at first we didn't really care for - it was so rocky, not something you land a fiberglass boat on - so we have to anchor and wade in.  But it's an inspiring beach we have grown very fond of.

The river is very wide there, well over a mile, and waves pound in endless, merciless succession.  The shore is covered with beach glass, driftwood, bits of dock, concrete, tar, and pebbles.  Amazing pebbles.  The kind you spend a fortune for in gift shops.  The kind you hunt for at the seashore and are happy to find a dozen.  It's incredible.

Based on the novel, "Immortality, Inc."

We brought our friends with us this weekend.  They live in Sicily now - the Mediterranean Island - and yet this beach captivated them too.  I feel like Bill Gates when I walk along the shore.  I skip rocks out into the water that I wouldn't dare dream of using somewhere else because of their rarity.  When an especially interesting piece of driftwood floats by I grab a handful of these beautiful missiles and launch them at it - and watch the puddles encircle it as the scatter shot lands.  It is a remarkable feeling, squandering the wealth, knowing there is an unlimited resupply at my feet.

We find bones too.  Usually fish but sometimes birds.  This isn't a tale about finding a human skeleton, don't worry.

This weekend we saw an eagle take off as we approached.  There were no other boats.  No other people.  You can't actually even see any houses unless you are very farsighted.

I'm stuck on a train right now.  I'm heading into another day at the start of another week of doing something other than beach combing.  It's okay though, If I close my eyes, the wheezing of the man behind me sounds a little like the water lapping against the hull of my boat and… I saw an eagle in flight from one hundred feet away.

An exceprt from "Freejack".

Alex Furlong: Man, if it's come down to this. What's the point?
Eagle Man: He Riddles me. The ancient riddle: "What's the point?" Have you ever seen an eagle flying back to his home with dinner for the Mrs. and all the little eagle babies. And he's flying against the wind and he's flying in the rain and he's flying through bullets and all kinds of hell, and then right at that moment when he's about to get back to his nest, he says, "[Forget it], it's a drag being an eagle" and right then two little x'es comes across his eyes just like in the old fashion cartoons. And he goes plunging down, and down and down and BAM. He's just a splatter of feathers and then we don't have the national bird of America no more. Did you ever see that?
Alex Furlong: No.
Eagle Man: Me Neither. Eagle's got too much self-respect. How's yours?

Friday, July 19, 2013

"I'm not even supposed to be here today!"

Today’s original work is written using Chicago style, as in the Chicago Manual of Style.  Which is to say that I chose not to capitalize “swiss” in “swiss cheese” since it isn’t cheese from Switzerland, it’s from Minnesota.

“Crazy Train”
By Jonathan Stark
July, 2013.  806 words.

Joe turned to his next customer.  "What do you want today?"

"I'll take a ham and swiss on wheat with lettuce, tomato, onion, and brown mustard," said the man in the suit.  He wasn't too much older than Joe but they looked worlds apart.

"Ham and cheese, coming right up."  Joe turned to his sandwich station and dropped two slices of rye onto the counter.  Then he switched to wheat.  The rest of the ingredients followed.

"You okay, Joe?" asked the patron.  "You seem a little distracted today, not your usual self."

Joe eyed the man, a regular, and then shrugged.  "Brenda and I had a - what's the word she used?  Doesn't matter.  She was stupid and I gave her what-for.  She gave me the couch.  Guess I'm a little
Not my kind of movie.

"Sorry about that.  I'm sure you'll work it out.  She's a sweet girl."  The man took his sandwich.

"Thanks."  Joe looked to his next customer - a newcomer staring up at the menu board.  "What'll it be?"

"I'll take what he had only with turkey instead of ham, american instead of swiss, and no tomato or onion."

Joe stared, the simmer starting to boil.  "That's a chick order."

The customer looked down from the board.  "What?"

Joe spoke slowly, explaining something to a child.  "That's a chick order.  You pick something you say you want and then try to change it into what you really want when what you should do is just go for what you wanted all along in the first place."  Definitely at low boil.

The customer wasn't sure what to think so he tried a different angle.  "Do you have pumpernickel bread?"

Joe started waving his hands around.  "See, even the foundation is flawed.  You don't want what he had, you want something completely different but for some crazy reason a ham sandwich sounded good to you so you've just got to have one."

The customer became confused, "But I don't want a ham sandwich, I want turkey."

Exasperated, Joe pointed out the mistake.  "We both know you want turkey, but you ordered a ham sandwich.”  A hard stare, then “Just like a chick."

The man thought for a moment and then settled on an idea that might actually get his sandwich made.  "How about I just give you my order again?"

"Fine."  Joe looked at him expectantly.  "Should I write it down so you'll remember what you said or is this just going to be about me listening to you until you feel better?"

"I'm going to ignore that." said the man.  After a dramatic pause, he continued.  "I'll take what he had, except PLEASE use turkey instead of ham, american instead of swiss, and hold the tomato and onion.  And if you have pumpernickel I'd like that too.  Please."  They stared at each other for another moment and then the man added, "Thank you.  Okay, I'm done now.  You can make the sandwich."

Joe laughed.  "Guess it doesn't really matter what I think, or how I feel, does it?"

"You're the sandwich guy."  His confusion was obvious, hadn’t everything been explained clearly?  More than once?

Joe got out the pumpernickel and squirted mustard onto the bread.

"What are you doing?" shrieked the man.  "I didn't ask for mustard."  Joe's look suggested otherwise but he held his tongue.  "Who puts mustard on a turkey sandwich?  I want mayonnaise."

"You didn't order a turkey sandwich, you ordered ham and cheese and everyone knows that if you use pumpernickel you have to put mustard on it," muttered Joe as he set the ruined bread aside and began again.

"All aboard!" screamed a speaker from somewhere near Joe's hip.  Immediately after, the opening strains of a heavy metal song from the early 1980s filled the deli.  Joe pulled out his phone.

"Really?  You're going to take that instead of making my sandwich?"

Joe spoke into the phone.  "What?  I'm busy making a ham sandwich."  He didn't say much during the conversation, mostly grunts and "uh-huh's" but it ended with a "Yeah, me too."

He put the phone away, changed his gloves, and finished up the sandwich.  "I haven't seen you here before, just move into town?"

The customer was caught off guard by the suddenly friendly and professional attitude.  "Yes, actually.  I'm from Danbury.  Just transferred down here."

Joe wrapped the sandwich in paper and brought it to the counter.  "I hate to bring this back up but there's a cost difference here between, well...  I have to mark turkey on the paper even though you ordered ham."

"That's okay.  I think I'd rather have turkey anyway now."

Joe paused, pen in hand, looking at the man.  He looked around the small store for any sign of a hidden camera crew.  Finding none, he asked, "Would you like a pickle with that?"

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"This is Jeopardy."

You are in Jeopardy for Must See TV Thursday this week.  Did I make you look behind you?  No?  Better check just to be safe.  I'd hate to say, "That's okay, I was just kidding" only to discover that there actually was a serial killer in your house about to perform some strange, twisted ritual which you could have escaped from if you had heeded my warning and hadn't been told it was a joke.

Wow, that was demented.  I should probably delete it and start again.  If you're reading this, I reached the station before I came up with a better opening.

As I mentioned last week, during my vacation I took a stroll down memory lane with WOF and Jeopardy.  While Wheel wasn't really my thing, Jeopardy was.  We even watched it as a family many nights.  That's a big deal because my mother was not a fan of the brain rotting box.  I actually had a TV ration every day - and it was non-transferable.  Just like the program budgets in the Federal Government, if you didn't spend the hour during the day, you lost it.  I probably never would have
watched Silver Spoons if it weren't for that rule.  I'm sure there are a lot of things purchased by Government middle managers for the same reason.  I digress in a big and dangerous way.  Double Jeopardy?

When I watch Jeopardy now I'm struck by how little Mr. Trebec has changed in 25 years.  Same hair, same pithy comments, same "I always know the answer and I'm so sorry you were wrong" tone of voice.  You know the one.  "Oh, I'm sorry.  The correct answer is Mount Rushmore, not the Mount of Olives.  So close.  Next category."  Always makes me smile.

I also think about the episode of Seinfeld in which George discovers that Jeopardy is played earlier on one network than another.  He watches, learns the answers, and then amazes his girlfriend by knowing all of the answers.  Even Final Jeopardy.  A trick that I have only pulled off a couple of times.  Were I ever to appear on the show, you may amaze your friends by predicting my ZERO dollar bet.

The last memory is from high school.  I was actually on a quiz show back then, part of a “hand-picked” team that represented the school in academic competition (we had the passing grades).  I'm not sure how many schools were entered in the "Eco-Logic" tournament, but we spent a couple of months getting out of class to go to weekly tapings of the show until we were knocked out in the semi-finals.  Pretty impressive for a small town hick school that everyone still makes fun of.  The host was the DJ of our local top 40 station and it was really neat getting to meet him and see the snakeskin boots he was always talking about.  But what's the tie-in?  They - my teammates and the Host - kept laughing at me because I would always answer the questions with a question.  Jeopardy style.  I tried to stop, but it was habit.  I was very lucky, the judges allowed my answers to count.

Answer:  The coolest part of being on an Eco-Logic team.  Question:  What was the coral colored Eco-Logic T-shirt?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"You’re a funny guy Sully, I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last"

This Wednesday - Movies you can swear by.  Or "why I don't particularly think that profanity belongs in movie scripts any more than a movie script should be longer than 120 pages."

What does that mean?  It means that while there are a handful of very good films that clocked in over 120 pages - some way over 120 pages, generally speaking (as in almost always) being longer than 120 pages is a sign of poor writing.  I believe that the use of profanity in a script follows a very similar rule; while there are a handful of very good scripts that use foul language to great dramatic effect, by and large their insertion serves only to underscore a weakness in the story or writing.

Profanity in writing, as in life, is simply a poor substitute for dialogue.  People swear because they can't think of anything else to say.  You may disagree, but I’ve been sworn at a lot and, trust me, it’s usually because my adversary is at a loss for an intelligent comeback.  Filling your written dialogue with cussing and saying, "That's how these people are" is wasting space.  Dialogue is one of the few places the author has to show the audience about the inner workings of a character.  An argument between two characters that consists mostly of swearing makes both characters seem pretty much the same.  It also makes the author look like he can't write dialogue worth a *$&^.

If the director and actor playing a role feel that a particular scene or character should have profanity in it, and they have decided they want to push PG-13 or go for R, they'll put in the foul language.  And it will be in the right place.  Why?  Because it takes no skill to use short words.  It's just like accents or colloquial dialects - you don't write them out phonetically because that work is done, on the fly, by the actor.  In the mean-time, you are showing off your writing chops with really powerful dialogue that exposes the inner heart of your characters and professional quality skill by not swearing.  You're no gutter-snipe.

Some people are oblivious to foul language.  They don't really even hear it.  These people will not experience any drama reading your script - the effect you were going for has been lost so you should have used other words to convey the emotion of your characters.  Other people find such language offensive and will be turned off by it - whether contest judges, friends ask to provide notes, or even a professional reader - again, not the effect you were going for.  Everything in a
script is condensed from real life.  A little bit goes a very long way.  A lot - of anything - is quite overpowering.

I find that when I'm reading a script, the ugly words (like that?) jump off the page, sort of take me out of the story for a moment.  I have to find my way back in.  There haven't been many exceptions.  Hearing it on the screen is more like real-life, except it has to be consistent - the "token" words always stand out and again, a little bit goes a long way.  If there's no dramatic purpose being served, it's just filler.

“Django Unchained” was filled with profanity and took a bit to get through.  I wasn't impressed by the story or the writing but I also had trouble visualizing everything - all of the characters kept swearing at each other and they were hard to keep track of.  I read a draft of “The Matrix” which had far more - and far stronger - swearing than the final movie.  The finished product was better for the editing, I'm sure that the characters, in real-life, would be foul mouthed, but on screen, there just isn't time to waste with minutes of meaningless words.  “Fargo” had its share of four-letter words too but they were confined to a couple of goofballs and, interestingly enough, illustrated that they were goofballs.  “The Sixth Sense” had one.  It was used fairly early and the entire scene was constructed around getting to the point that the word was used.  Personally, I'd probably have written around it, but then, in case you missed all the clues, I don't use that sort of language.

Interestingly enough, in all of the fiction that I've written, it wasn't until I started writing movies that I was tempted to use foul language in my dialogue.  It must be the influence of all of the action movies from the '80s.  Just remember, the line Arnold is most famous for was completely clean.

This post is finished, but don’t worry.  “I’ll be back.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"I don't think I'll ever get over Macho Grande."

Some wait patiently while others pace.  There are signs and flowers clenched in sweating hands.  A few are on phones, but, surprisingly here where the debarking international passengers are excreted from customs, that ubiquitous extension of personality is conspicuously absent.

It's as if life has been put on hold as we all wait.

It's a busy airport.  I've spent a lot of time here in the past.  That experience has paid off - VIP parking 100 yards from our vantage point, GPS free navigation, no aimless wandering the concourses looking for coffee or medication.  Last night was a different sort of visit though.

I wasn't working.

I didn't have to worry about making my own flight - juggling bags and paperwork.  I didn't have to worry about not spotting my man coming off of the plane.  I didn't have to worry about the crowd, searching for the people who weren't there for the reasons they seemed to be.  We passed a police officer armed with an M-4 carbine on the way inside - security was someone else's problem.
Could watch this all day...

"I could watch this all day," remarked my wife.

So could I.  This was not the tearful departure lounge.  This was jumbo jet after jumbo jet load of people being met by family and friends.  They were excited.  They were happy.  It was the same over and over - but different.  Like watching the ocean or a fire.  Or a snow storm while sipping cocoa.

We watched people from all over the world – all different but with the same emotions - as we waited for our friends.  I watched faces light up, people running to each other, hugs...  It became out turn eventually.  I saw familiar faces with now very familiar expressions; I saw my daughter and her friend mimic the hundreds of others we’d seen in the half hour before she emerged – and the half dozen to either side of them.

I don't know where in the world you are writing from, but I do know that somewhere in your tool box you need to have someone who is happy to see you.  And not just, "Hey, how's it going?" happy.

I'm talking "international arrivals at a major airport" happy to see you.  It's the buh-

Monday, July 15, 2013

"We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast."

Everyone needs a little extra inspiration on Monday.

Nothing inspires you to live life more fully than nearly dying.  That's what they say anyway.  I have, allegedly, had numerous near death experiences, but since they've all been tied to the axiom "If you aren't living on the edge you're taking up too much space" I didn't really get anything out of them - except a bit of thrill maybe.  I mean, as my Dad said, "WHO RIDES A BICYCLE 53 MILES PER HOUR?"

Dude, chill.  And rest easy - I don't live near hills that let me get higher than 40 anymore.

My point is, unless you don't feel the illusion of control, the closeness of death is lost and there is no inspiration - life may be more exciting, but you are left looking for more, not suddenly realizing how much is actually right there.  I know what I'm talking about.  Saturday I was nearly killed.

It started off as a nice enough day.  We piled into the boat with Pizza Pizza for lunch and coolers full of drinks to stave off dehydration.  The sun was brilliant, the air and water warm.  It was such a nice
day we even brought the dog.  Not the brown one that brought us bad luck last year or the black one that would have spent the entire trip terrified.  Nope, we brought the border collie.  WIth a cute life jacket.

This was the stereo-typical perfect boat ride.  We stopped and drifted in the big river, swam off the back, and laughed as the cute little dog jumped off to swim in a big herding circle around the kids.  I even helped him scramble back onto the swim platform.  Ditto the second time.  It was precious.  My wife wanted to take a picture.  We spent five minutes (we being the entire family) trying to coax the little dog back into the water.  He was having nothing of it - not being able to touch was, apparently, a little freak-eh.

"Why don't you get in, Dear."  My wife.  Brilliant.  I hate swimming.  It isn't my bag.  "Okay," said I.  It was about 14 feet where we were so it was warm enough.  I suited up with extra buoyancy and jumped in.  Swam around a bit.  Added my voice to the cries of, "Come on, boy."  He was having nothing of it.  She tossed him in.  Sink or swim baby, yeah.

The dog immediately came to me so I could save him.  Thing is, he didn't stop and sit so I could pet him.  Something about having to keep swimming or he'd drown.  In terror, he climbed onto my head, the only dry land in sight.  The vest I was wearing couldn't handle the extra 40 pounds and under I went.  See, thing is, I don't do drowning.  "GET HIM [gurgle, splutter] OFF ME."  The problem was that nobody could.  Now, if they had tried it would have been easy, but apparently this was high comedy and there was little to no incentive to end it.

Little dog, rumored to be man's best friend no less, drowns man while trying not to drown as family looks on, having aneurisms because they are laughing so hard.  Ha ha ha.  Great logline.  Finally #2 pulled him off at which point he tried to drown her.  I was able to, at that point, get behind him and then guide him to the boat where he was hauled aboard and whined for the next several minutes until everyone else was out of the water.

Later we anchored at the beach and he was nervous about heading to shore but once he understood about swimming out and back, and found where he could touch, he became a water dog.  The next forty minutes had him running up and down the length of the beach, at the waterline, tongue hanging out, alive and inspired.  There was no stopping him.

As for me, I'm still here.  Last week was one of the most intense I can recall at work, but it doesn't really matter.  This is a different week and my life is going on - with or without me.  In the middle of that professional maelstrom, there were some amazing things going on.  Beaten down is no way to live.  Pressing on is the only way to the mark.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"These walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em."

Guess who just got back today?  Those wild-eyed boys that had been away… at camp.  I’d like to tell you that it was a quiet week with 50% less muss and fuss than the typical week but when they came back, well, they fell all about the place and man, if they want to [have a nerf] fight, you better let them.
If you aren’t up on your Thin Lizzie, take it on faith that the previous paragraph is clever parody, smile politely while nodding, and press on.  The boys I’m talking about are offspring #3 and 4 who spent the last week in scenic communion with mosquitos and dirt.  Lots of dirt.

Let me put it into perspective.  I was met at the door, upon my return from work, by two boys who were red from the scrub brush, not sun burn.  The sun didn’t touch them after Tuesday – too much dirt.  When I
walked into the laundry room the washer and dryer both handed me letters of resignation.  Okay, that wasn’t true, but there was an unexpected and extremely strong floral smell.  It took my numbed-after-days-of-cattle-like-cubicle-paper-pushing to recognize it as Lysol.  The doors, windows, and ventilation ducts had been sealed off and the room fumigated with Lysol.  My wife.  Very, very thorough.  She probably saved us from Ebola.

Last bit on dirt – I was shown a small section of rash and asked what it could be.  I, teasing, suggested it might be from not bathing regularly or wearing the same clothes for a week straight.  As serious as could be, #4 told me it couldn’t be that “because I took two showers after I got home.”

I remember camp when I was their age.  I was just like them.  I can only imagine the pile of laundry I brought home, or smell that the summer week of questionable washing habits left in my vicinity.  Sorry, Dad.  I remember hearing stories about an industrious young man who would rub his bar of soap against the wall of the shower house so that the words would be gone and his mother would think he’d used it.  We all thought he was brilliant.  I extrapolated and found a personal application – I squeezed out half a tube of tooth paste on the last morning one year.  It wasn’t that I had something against brushing my teeth – it was the awful taste of the water.  Really.  You have to believe me.

There’s a scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” where Tim Robbins tells Morgan Freeman that it’s ironic that "...on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook."  What is it about institutions that so completely change our behaviors?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"...A web would indicate an arachnoid presence."

I haven't watched much TV since getting back from vacation.  Between the day job and those insane kettlebells, when I reach that point in the day were I would normally sit on the couch and watch something, I'm already mostly asleep on my feet.  But never fear, I did watch TV while on vacation and had a wonderful trip down memory lane with Pat Sajak, Vanna White, and Alex Trebek.

This Must See TV Thursday is about the Wheel.  I was torn between the two shows but last night I watched an episode of Castle in which Julian Sands played the garish fashion designer and since he was in Arachnophobia and the first victims in the USA in Arachnophobia were watching Wheel, I figured that was the better bet - even though everyone in that movie -except John Goodman - was in jeopardy.  Jeopardy of losing their careers.  Apparently I was the only one in America that liked Arachnophobia, but more on that (and my 5 trips to the theater to see it) another day.

I first started watching “The Wheel of Fortune” when I was in 5th grade because my 5th grade teacher watched it and talked about it.  That was also when I started watching “General
Hospital” (for the same reason) - for reference, it was when Frisco and Felicia were getting together and Robert Scorpio was the man with the plan.

WOF hasn't changed much in thirty years.  In the old days there was a shopping spree with your prize money of sponsored items.  Now it appears you keep the cash with a chance to win some cherry prizes like trips and cars.  There are also more puzzles.  I think that's good, makes the game go much faster.  I don't know why most people watch game shows but for me it isn't about getting to know the contestants, it's about the game.  Except for the clothes – everything else looks pretty much the same.

There is one change I don't get.  For the final puzzle they give you letters and then let you select a couple of more.  I realize that everyone used to always pick the same ones, but somehow that doesn't sit well with me.  “They” are picking the puzzle that's worth the biggest prize and doing it already knowing what letters (mostly) you'll have.

Actually there's a lot about Wheel of Fortune that I don't get.  It's fun to watch but I'm not very good at it.  I don't have the app, the board game, or the lunchbox.  If you do, that's cool.  If you make a big bowl of popcorn to sit and watch it every night you won't get any grief from me.  Just, you might want to watch Arachnophobia to see what happens to those people...