Saturday, November 29, 2008

Picking up the Piece(s)

Where to from here?--The eternal question--What next?

I have a few ideas.

A few ideas:

1. Have an FM motive serving as the spine that changes, but almost imperceptibly, to serve as the armature and generate tension. Contrapuntal to this would be a granular harmony that is never static or repetitive and is ONLY composed of changing elements.

2. Have a granular motive that appears to change very, very little. Would serve the same purpose as the FM motive in the previous idea: to generate tension and carry the piece. Have an FM motive that would be nothing but change. The FM motive would be the primary melody.

Problems with these two ideas: there is not enough overall change, simply an extended contrast of two distinct layers. How can we move toward a compelling climax? How can we continue to change?


I really need to do more research into FM and granular synthesis, create a few mini-experiments, and find my central idea, before I can nail down anymore what exactly I want to do.


So many of my DXARTS projects are self-reflexive. Only a while after have I been able to apply what I've learned and generate something that exists without being self-consciously aware of what it is, without being a direct response to what it is. But isn't all great art by nature, aware of what it is? Isn't it through this awareness that it is able to transcend past nearsightedness? By being aware of itself, by knowing fully what it is, can it know what it is capable of. And by knowing what it is capable of, it can become, realize that capability.

But all of this flows out of knowing. Knowing flows out of doing. Doing flows out of knowing.


That's my generative idea. Badda-bing.

Listening to: Mozart's String Quartet No. 1

Lessons of Suckness*

I'm going to transcribe the notes from my midterm critique, and then I'll add some additional thoughts to that before segueing into a rumination on starting my sound synthesis final.


NOVEMBER 12, 2008:

..."Our brain focuses on the thing that changes"...pitch/amplitude/rhythmic variations keep the thing active in our ears

..."Below sure you want the sound"...

See Grisset re different orderings of the same pitch

Developing a little bit to the point that you feel like it should be developing, but static to the point that you don't feel the development. Doesn't develop enough nor is it static enough.

Don't be afraid to start layering earlier.

I think I approached this project with a lot of big ideas that were dealt with very simply. What I should have done is choose a small idea, and develop it with complexity.
It was also missing something underneath--like an armature. Some spine that the piece could rest on, be supported by.
Also, I introduced too many 'characters' who change very little. The first phrase and the subsequent phrases are not one character going through changes, but separate characters going through little change. They are all introduced over a period of time that is too long. And they change very little.
In other words, I didn't scale my 'cast' to the parameters of the piece. Too many characters, not enough change, nor were they used effectively.
What did I learn? I learned that structure is useless if it's hollow. Structure cannot be compelling in and of itself, it can only carry something that is.
But all that is a-okay! Because guys, I learned something today. I learned that while structure may carry story, and story may carry character, and armature may carry structure, YOUR CHARACTERS CARRY AUDIENCE.


'Character carries audience' is probably my most profound realization, the most applicable epiphany I could have gotten out of that project/critique. It's an incredibly simple idea, but deceptively so. And one that I've 'known' for as long as I've tried to be a writer/filmmaker--but until you make the mistake of not using this concept, it's really difficult to see precisely how profound it can revitalize your work--and how pervasive a failure your project can become if neglected. In my case, it's really taken 20+ short films/videos/animations, dozens of short stories and plays, a 'bell study' plus this one, educational-if-not-representational midterm sound synthesis project to really, really realize the ramifications of such a simple statement.

Character carries audience.

Apart from that little insight, it didn't help things that I was lacking in an idea to communicate, or an emotion to evoke, or an experience to generate. I just wanted to apply what I knew about story structure to sound/music and see what would happen. Lesson: not much. There is the appearance of structure, but none of the affect. At its worst, structure is an excuse. At its best, structure is a vehicle that clarifies, refines, strengthens, and ultimately enables your idea(s) to be received and, ideally, comprehended by your audience. Of course, structure can't make a bad idea good, nor can it stand in for that good idea.

Structure gives form to content. And both rest on this concept of the armature--premise--thesis--concept.

Thesis + Content + Form = Expression.


Some other misc notes:

Find a way to use the same motif you establish without actually repeating it, or the same internal logic/structural logic...Then you can invert it or make other variations and it will sound completely different.

Sketch more specifically your formal ideas, gestures, notes, phrases, relationships.


Loud ==> Quiet
Slow ==> Fast
Low ==> High
Left ==> Right ==> Center

Let go and see musically where you can go with the software

Be aware of musical time / minute changes

IOW in ONE area, like simple phrase repetitions, these are not changes that are captivating.

Use your imagination! What music do you like? STEAL IT!

Some repetition ideas:
not abcdefgabcdefgabcdefg = boring (this is more or less what i did)

There is no need to literally go back to something you've done before, just to create closure.

REPETITION not 'replication'. difference

Thoughts on elements:

Spine: a rhythmic pattern underlying everything; this supports the piece

Motive A: Primary point of expression

Motive B: Counterpoint, secondary expression

Where these(^) run parallel, where they intersect, are the relationships that the 'story' arc should be built upon.

Parallelisms create symmetry, harmony. The movement from this(^) to this(v) is where the tension lies. Perpendicularities/intersections create conflict.


Forget about emotions ATM and focus on how sounds are shaped, developed and interrelated.

The first two seconds of a piece tells you everything it's about...


*Very tenuously ripped-off of Herzog's 'Lessons of Darkness'

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Obama Day

In honor of tomorrow/today*:

*not an original

Blog of no content

In addition to the below sound project (due Nov. 10), I also have a proposal due for my final project in the physics class I'm taking right now: Light and Color. My final project can be a research paper into any of the material we've touched on (give me a break) or it can be an artwork that explores and experiments with some of the topics we've learned (break me off a piece!).

I'm dead certain my project will be a video, hopefully HD. What little film I have is too precious -- I'm saving that for my general studies thesis -- and as much as I love my PD150 and the DVX100, it's time to step it up a little bit. You know, "experiment"? I have access to an HVX100, in theory at least, through my department's research center CARTAH. But whereas it was once possible to get any of their pretty stellar equipment through a simple go-through-the-motions application process, it has become bafflingly difficult to get access to their equipment now. At any rate, I at least need a mini-proposal to submit to them in order to maybe obtain access, so I need to get a jump on that, as submitting my Cartah app by Monday (when my Phys prop is due) is getting a little too late for comfort.

The initial proposal involves: identifying a subject or theme (optics/lenses), where I will obtain information and materials, what exactly I will produce. Fairly straightforward.

But beyond that, the snag I hit is on -- as ALWAYS -- the fucking "what"? And by that, I don't mean "film or video or photograph or painting", I mean "what the fuck is this thing going to be about?" One thing I look forward to after I graduate, is not having to create an idea to suit a project, but instead having to create a project to suit an idea. Which is exactly as it should be. However, having a skill such as that is likely useful in the sink-or-swim world of professional filmmaking.

I, of course, want to continue my movement into narrative filmmaking, especially after all of the play- and screenwriting I've done in the past few months. So drumming up a story that isn't overly ambitious, but just enough so, in order to encourage me to continue to move toward self-experimentation. Shooting high-def will get me halfway there. The scope of the project will be the other half. Naturally, I also hope to work with actors -- but do I really have time to audition for this thing? Jan is always reliable and down for a little guerrilla videomaking, but whether or not I need a more professional performance or I can use my old friend will and should depend wholly on the content of my piece.

Content. That word, it seems to be continually resurfacing. Interesting.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

'This shit just got real'

I've come to my first real sound project (midterm). Up to now it's been only coding and listening assignments. And only with the last one have we been granted any real measure of creativity. The small 'bell study' I came up with for that assignment is really rather simple, a quality I like, even if it fails to exploit any sense of spatialization (as was made abundantly clear to me by listening to a classmate's piece :)). But having listened to it countless times now, I'm still rather pleased with it. At least, as pleased as I might be with a 30 second mini-experiment. There's something about its simplicity that I'm drawn to. That I'm drawn to simplicity is probably why I created it as such. Or I could very well just be completely and utterly disillusioned with my compositional talents simply because I've never sonically composed something before. I'm sure there's at least an element of that. At any rate, I enjoy the piece because it's simple in the way that 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" is simple, if not quite sublime. You can listen to it here.

That however, was a 'study'. This current project must be 'a piece based on my own compositional concepts.' That's a 7-word difference of expectation. So. Where do I start?

Structure. We've been given direction to model our piece either on one of the pieces we've studied in class, or to use another discipline such as visual and literary arts or a scientific concept. Since the ultimate aim for me to take this series is to explore how to use sound to tell and shape narrative, I figure storytelling structure is a more appropriate form for my piece than anything else.

Now, which form of story structure?

The 'Armature & Seven Steps' story structure from my mentor/friend Brian McDonald: [Once upon a time.../And everyday.../Until one day.../And because of this.../And because of this.../Until finally.../And ever since that day...] All of which serves to develop, prove, and reinforce the theme/premise/thesis or 'armature' of the story.

Syd Field's screenplay structure: Opening Scene, Plot Point I, Midpoint Scene, Plot Point II, End Scene. He stipulates that for a feature length screenplay, Act I will end with Plot Point I, when the story really begins; the Midpoint Scene of Act II should be the turning point of the story from which every scene that follows is fallout from this midpoint scene (see 'The Wild Bunch', 'Heat'); and that Plot Point II is the end of Act II, spinning the action in a final direction toward the climax.

Stanislavsky's Method: Given Circumstances, Super Objective, Objective, Action, Obstacle. This is an acting methodology, but even if it doesn't provide a beginning-to-end structure for telling a story, it does provide a framework for embodying a story. I'm sure there is something structurally worthwhile to be gotten from it.

...there are many, many more, (Campbell's Hero's coughoverusedcough Journey) but these are the three dramatic forms I've studied the most.

Perhaps the best recipe for compositional structure is to crib a little (or a lot) from all of these. Approach this two-to-five minute piece the same way I've approached my feature screenplay:

1) Narrow an area of interest to a specific idea/thesis; this is the Armature. 2) Use the 7 Steps to hash-out the macro-progression of beats towards proving the Armature over time. 3) Use Field's Beginning/PlotPt1/Mdpt/PlotPt2/Ending to create a more specific scene-by-scene -- movement-by-movement(?) -- development of the idea. 4) Use Stanislavsky's method to embody the melodies of the piece and help develop a more emotional progression for them.

That seems pretty reasonable to me. It probably portends a lot more sophistication than what I'll ultimately make -- two minutes is two minutes is composed by a filmmaker -- but it can only help. Structure is a beautiful thing. That's something I've been learning with snowballing momentum lately. The importance and vitality of structure to writing a screenplay finally clicked for me last summer after a year's worth of intensive storytelling study came to a climax of sorts. And now I have the opportunity to study using those same techniques in a different medium.

I feel a little hesitation after writing the above paragraph, mainly because I'm not comfortable labeling myself and my interests, I'm not entirely comfortable using one word to encapsulate everything that makes my sensibilities mine, that kind of goes against pretty much everything I've tried to be. But if I were to choose *something*, I guess it would be 'structuralist'. At the moment at least, I can't think of any artistic ideology more appropriate.

Now, what's my Armature?

Listening to: Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 / RATATAT

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My 6th Autumn Quarter at UW

Jesus Christ. I really can't believe that. Hahaha. Man I'm either REALLY dedicated or REALLY lame. More likely somewhere in-between. At any rate, an old year is over, a new one beginning. Now that the wheels are kind of spinning on my study of storytelling after last year's devotion to it, I'm embarking on a few things that are to varying degrees, beyond my comfort sphere.

Acting: I realized that the single most extensive component involved in filmaking that I hadn't yet studied was acting. I realized this as I tried to seriously pursue getting into the drama dept's directing program. Once it became a do-or-do-not situation, I was like, "Oh fuck, I don't know how to talk to an actor from a place of any experience or confidence at all." Some people don't need to embody every skill that falls within their sphere of influence, but I've always lived by the "lead from the front" creed. And this tends to prevent me from having confidence in situations in which I lack experience. Thankfully, I got into my back-up: acting. So far, I think it's going to be fun, exciting, challenging, and ultimately enlightening. The true super-curriculum challenge for me will be to use my experiences in the class to erect some sort of formalism for approaching the coaching and interpretation of a screenplay (or a play for that matter) with an actor. The paradox is that if I keep this thought too much to the fore of my mind, I'll fail to achieve any sort of real acting experience because I'll be constantly trying to refocus it into my super-objective (Bam! an acting term!), instead of being present and embodying the experience as it is.

The same is true of my other, much more intimidating pursuit: digital sound synthesis and design. I added the "design" component, because that makes me feel more interest in the course, than merely synthesis. On second thought, perhaps I ought to remove that and, in the spirit of the preceding graph, focus on appreciate and embodying the experience as is, instead of attempting to graft my presuppositions onto it. At any rate, my ultimate hope would be to complete my DIY filmmaking skill array, with this last, crucial and potentially crippling facet of audio-visual storytelling. I'll let that phrase perc for a beat. Oh yeah! AUDIO-visual storytelling. Whoops. I missed that memo initially I think. And many of my early experimental films suffered for it. In fact, I'm at the moment mired in an interminable post-production process on my short film from last spring. Visually its beautiful and makes kinetic and spatial sense, but has the pretenses of a narrative without the actual presentation of one. My last hopes for its clarity and salvation lie in some sort of audio narrative being formed to guide and reinforce the visuals that are already there. My super-objective with this year-long class is to acquire the skill-sets necessary to compose and communicate with a composer, ultimately for my films. But as in the prev graph, if I don't focus on being and embodying, I'll lack a true inner space of knowledge and experience to inform my intent. Not to mention that these sound classes are known for being fucking hard. Hard. And the last time I took a challenging class not directly related to filmmaking (or writing)...well, I didn't do so well. So to say I'm a bit nervous, would be an understatement. But I'm hoping to exorcise those demons here and not look back.

I am confident that given the proper attention to detail, the proper expenditure of effort, and the proper level of receptivity to a new experience, I can succeed and perhaps surprise more than just myself. I'd like to. I really would. I'd really like to not say goodbye to a 3.43 gpa that took 3 years and a helluva lot of 4-ohs to raise from a 2.75.

We all have lines that won't be crossed. Mine is to not give an inch in terms of the quality of my education in so far as I can control both my level of effort and the quality of my product.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A 20-30 page, one-act, multiple-character play. That means in 20 to 30 pages: setup, conflict, resolution between multiple people. For some reason, most literature seems to suggest, and most feelings about one-act plays or similarly timed short films, that a piece of that length is too short to tell a complete and compelling story with multiple characters. To this moment, I can't imagine how one couldn't tell a complete and compelling story. I suppose a part of me has yet to make use of more than half that many pages, and so I am probably either intimidated by the length of the proposition, or simply can't imagine how one could use so much space given how little I've worked with. Though that begs the question, have I ever created a complete and compelling story in that much time.

I think the key to this is to fully explore the characters' personalities and interactions, to make full use of the whole universe of possibilities broached by the barest of bones outline of my story.

Take In Bruges, a wonderful film I saw yesterday for the first time. The basic premise: two hit-men hide out in Bruges following a botched job. That doesn't even scratch the surface of what playwrite(!)-turned-writer/director Martin McDonough has created in his first feature. I think the strength of the piece is in how it fully explores the humanity of its central characters--even the villain--and their interactions. It goes places few movies dare do--that of ultraviolent dark comedy--and comes out as possibly one of the feel-better films I've seen all year. Bizarre? Not really, considering how well it elucidates on its hidden armature. What the film is really about is the potential for a human being to change who he is. Colin Farrel's character wants to change after the gravity of his occupation hits home when he kills the kid. Brenden Gleeson's character does everything he does because while he may be too old to change, he needs to believe that its possible for someone like him to change and to live a good life. The girl Farrel's character hooks up with at first tries to seduce him into a stage tourist robbing scheme, but then she ends up falling in love with him when even after he is held at gunpoint, he still wants her.


I've gone on too much. It is a wonderful movie. My favorite so far this year by a long shot--but it has nothing to do with my play beyond what I said above.

To the point: what is a story worth telling, that has the potential for characters worth embodying?


Satan is a good guy. The genesis of all evil...isn't evil at all? Or isn't the genesis of it? Or simply exists in a universe where entropy is the natural order? What was it about the "satan is a good guy" idea that I liked so much? Surely there was more beyond simply wanting to see the greatest villain of all time portrayed as good, yeah? Perhaps it was more a desire to see god portrayed as the villain. But is there anything there worth mining that hasn't been already? I'm sure there is. But I certainly can't think of it. So. Satan is a good guy. Now what?


Satan is a hero. What did he do and why? Do I have to play by rules? Maybe not.


Sample monologue:

I am god's nemesis. I am his most-hated, most-feared enemy. I am all that he pits his all against. I am not satan. I am not the devil. Those don't exist. They are modes of control. Created by a jealous entity that exists beyond and within the fabric of this space called space. Not because you people are the There are issues at stake larger than any collection of parchment could contain.


Operating param:

"The devil is in the details"

Even the grandest project depends on the success of the smallest components. This version of the proverb often implies that the details might cause failure.


Friday, April 25, 2008

All Agony, No Ecstasy: an email exchange

The following is an email exchange that took place over the last 24 hours between one of my teachers at DXARTS and myself. I think it holds a microcosm of personal and universal artistic agony, especially as it relates to filmmaking. I've replaced my instructor's name with "prof" and struck the name of one of the films that I reference just in case the person isn't comfortable being quoted directly.


Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2008 14:23:32 -0700
From: Prof
To: Erik LeDrew
Subject: Re: scripting troubles

yeah no problem, the most important thing is to make something, and the biggest obstacles are usually

1. agonizing over "is my idea good enough?"
2. ideas that are too ambitious for the reality of your timeframe/means

On Apr 24, 2008, at 2:20 PM, Erik LeDrew wrote:

ah. well...of course. :)

I guess I was thinking of that crazy way you went about hand-cranking your HD
footage from the cat and the owl.

Enough said. Thanks for hearing me out.

On Thu, 24 Apr 2008, Prof wrote:

you are misunderstanding me. all i'm saying is that when you're young, you
shouldn't agonize over the ideas so much. just decide on something and
execute it. that's how you'll get better.

On Apr 24, 2008, at 2:02 PM, Erik LeDrew wrote:
Hear, hear.
I'm not exactly a technical innovator though, as I'm sure you can tell.
And going back down the technical chain to a photochemical medium seems
less about innovation and more about just being an exercise for the sake
of experience -- which is what it was intended to be.
I've always thought content and ideas were my strengths, so making
something less about what and more about how seems counter-productive to
me -- even if I agree with you.

On Thu, 24 Apr 2008, Prof wrote:
Don't cancel your tests or your casting call, just write another little
scenario that kinda connects (i.e. uses the same character) but is
give yourself till tomorrow night to come up with the new concept.
when you're shooting on film, the story of a wet dude limping down the
street and talking someone into buying him a hamburger can be
sophisticated. it matters less what the film is about, more how you make
it, at this stage in your career. (that's my opinion more and more these
days, i think it's true for all of us while we're "nobodies")

On Apr 24, 2008, at 1:45 PM, Erik LeDrew wrote:
Monkey-wrench man, monkey-wrench.
Actually, I had considered that, but I ended up tabling it because
we're already going into the fifth week of the quarter and to start
from square one content-wise seemed like an unsafe endeavor.
You have a good point though. It would be nice to leave 202 having a
complete work. That said, at this point, how sophisticated can it
actually be? I've lost a month's worth of work.
At some point I have to draw the line. I mean, I could ideate and see
what I come up with, but I have already ordered film and my tests are
this weekend which can be pushed back but...fuck man. I don't know
what to do. I've already put out a casting call and everything...
I'll tell you what. I'm going to cancel camera tests this weekend.
I'll give myself until Sunday to have a new story conceived, written,
shot-listed, and sketched. If I don't have at least those first three
elements in place, I'm going to push ahead with the beach scene.

On Thu, 24 Apr 2008, Prof wrote:
you don't need to make something self-contained, but it might be
more satisfying ultimately, speaking from personal experience.
what about just coming up with a new idea altogether and waiting on
the current one until such a time when you can do it right?

On Apr 24, 2008, at 1:32 AM, Erik LeDrew wrote:
hey man --
i'm having trouble reverse-engineering a stand-alone piece out of
the two beach scenes. It loses a lot of its specific meaning
without the rest to contextualize it. It becomes ambiguous in a
way that i don't think is good. I'm wondering if i should just
shoot it as-written, with the intention of filming the rest.
I also don't really like how it essentially makes it a
naturalistic version of the video I made last year in 453. not to
mention that by removing the acting and narrative-driven elements,
it removes a lot of the things that I wanted to experiment and
challenge myself with in the first place.
I've come to this line of thinking after about five hours of
sitting, and thinking, and sitting and I don't really like where
I've ended up. i don't feel good about it, and i'm not intrigued
by it. so unless there's something lively and poetic that i'm
missing, i think the scene belongs as a piece of a larger film,
not a stand-alone.
if you're cool with it, i think what i'd like to do, is shoot the
scene the way i would want it to be in the finished piece, and
maybe storyboard out the rest of the film, and create a sort of
tempcut, substituting the storyboards for the two missing scenes.
do you think this would be satisfactory? or do i really need to
make a self-contained piece?
or am i going in the wrong direction entirely?
sorry for the bombardment -- erik

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There and Back Again: a writer's tale

EDIT: I've pretty much decided against doing what I discuss in the below, pending approval of my instructor. I've tried to engineer something out of the beach scenes and they just don't resonate for me. I designed the piece with a specific idea supporting it, and without the other two scenes to contextualize it, the meaning is lost and it becomes ambiguous in a bad way.

So I think what I'm going to do is film the beach scenes as-is, and storyboard out the rest of the film. And then put together a reel mixing the footage with storyboards for the missing scenes. This would also save time if I'm going to finish the piece this summer.

I've felt pretty off about the whole stand-alone process and now that I've made this decision, after a legitimate amount of work might I add, I feel pretty good once again.

We'll see if I get the big OK.


I ended up writing a pretty decent three-act, 11-page piece. Unfortunately, it's way too ambitious for the amount of time I have to do it. More so because I'm tackling a technical challenge as well as a dramatic one.

So the decision has been made to take the first scene, the scene that the rest of the piece was born out of, and try to make that a self-contained short film. If all goes well, it will either be expanded this summer by filming the remaining two scenes, or those two scenes will be added to and embellished to for a separate-but-related short film.

Either way, the beach scene must become its own animal. I'll not make a short film that can't stand on its own two legs, even if that means transforming it into a different kind of film.

So that's where I am at the moment. Thoughts to flesh it out:

Transitional moments need to be added to go between the morning and midday scenes.

If this thing is to become completely a metaphor for human history, then adding a night scene might be the proper way to end it as well. That would have to be done day-for-night -- unless dusk would be more appropriate...but then wouldn't we want to show the sun rising?...At some point, as in: in the next few minutes, a decision will have to be made.

A concluding night scene would also require a transitional moment between midday and night.


I'm getting indecisive. Is this about nature moving on without man? Or about man's place in nature? The latter I think. So it ought to end with nighttime, man having disappeared.

There can always be some sort of insert shot of the sun rising if it feels like we need something like that...although how can we end with the camera roll stopping? Maybe that should be reserved for the full piece.

Taken on its own, this scene is without a conclusion unless we trace it straight into night, and allow the sun to rise again.

Time to write.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Super- & 16mm Film & Bolex Camera Info

History of 16mm:

Movies shot on 16mm:

Overview of Bolex:

Modifying a Bolex Rex3, Rex4 and Rex5:

Modern S16mm:

S16mm Testimonials:

More on S16mm:

Bolex Website:

Bolex manuals:

Bolex Features and History:

How does one perform performance capture?

The plan: shoot an 8 - 15 minute short film on 16mm -- FILM film. It will be three scenes averaging between 2 and 5 minutes each, with an epilogue that returns to the first scene. Yes, this will be a non-linear story. Surprise surprise. But that's okay, because it's part of the point this time around. I'm not sure if I'm using non-linearity as a crutch this time around, but it at least serves a genuine purpose in the story.

The purpose: to both a) engage the viewer by offering a mysterious proposition in the opening scene; and b) to force the viewer to continually recontextualize their perceptions of the characters and their actions based on the information they receive and the order in which they receive it.

Questions I hope to provoke: Is the main character good or bad? Are his actions justified? Does he deserve our sympathy? Does he represent the whole of the human race? If not, are the dinner guests or rioting prisoners any different? How?

The kinds of art I admire in an aspirational sense present situations and characters that compel viewers to ask questions, without providing them with discreet answers. While my short film will draw some sort of conclusion, I think if effectively handled it won't be perceived as an answer, but as more of a concluding question. Food for thought sort of thing.

The problem I have at the moment is that while the broadstrokes of the story and characters, and some of the specifics, have been developed, I feel like it has the possibility of being dead in the water. Leaden under the weight of its own pomposity. It needs to have a certain fleetness, even while not losing any of the serious over- and under-tones.

My teachers believe the best way to attain this sensibility is to "perform your film" -- any way you can. My interpretation of this is to make the film feel as if it were crafted with the kind of craft only human intuition can achieve. The way an experienced stage actor will vary their performance depending upon an audience's reception. The way an experienced camera operator (read this article now) can in Brett Simon's words "breath with an actor". Or the way a camera operator can hand-crank a camera, slowing and speeding up the amount of film exposed, depending upon the moment-to-moment feeling they have of being in the scene. Performance, as I see it, is a way of making a work of any kind feel made by human hands -- esp. in this increasingly automated world we live in. It is a way of avoiding the clinical, the precise. It makes things a little more messy, a little more human -- even if the subject matter is about the end of the human race (see Children of Men). Which, come to think of it, makes the human element all the more imperative. Even a movie as (wonderfully) crass and (delightfully) low-brow as Crank has a feeling of the performed -- manic, depraved, and gleefully carefree as it may be. I think that's why I like the movie so goddamn much, actually. David Lynch with Inland Empire is another fantastic example of how the varying, digressing, fundamentally human touch can elevate even the most grueling of filmic experiences.

Speaking of human digressions...

I want to perform my film. I don't know how.

That's where I am.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Revising vs Rewriting

How does one distinguish the two? Is one more appropo than the other? Under which circumstances?

That's my dilemma at the moment. I've written a rough draft of a short story, wrote a week ago to be precise, and tomorrow my "final" draft is due--I'm thinking it's just going to be a "second" draft. The problem is, I like how my story is now: a dry, objective, uninflected compare/contrast story on a usually emotionally messy and obscured situation: a dysfunctional relationship. My hope was to ask: "To what extent are we bound to repeat history?" In this case, in relationships. Are we pre-determined by the actions of our parents, siblings, friends, to treat our significant others as we have witnessed those around us treat theirs? How true is it to say we are products of our environments? Surely, there are those who can transcend, but what about the rest of us?

Those were the initial guiding questions for my story, and so I came up with a structure that essentially split the story in two: the first section for Kelli, our female character, the second for dane, our male character. The beginning, middle, and end serve as "omniscient" transitions for the narrative, looks at the relationship in question. The two sections are about each characters' points of reference regarding relationships: they're all dysfunctional. The question is whether or not these two who have problems but obviously care about each other, are bound to fall into the same traps that their surrounding relationships fell into.

Unfortunately, as well written as parts of it are, I don't think it makes for a very engaging story. It lacks a destination, as a matter of course, and it doesn't have much in the way of true conflict, only conflict as required by the story. I named the character Dane as a nod to Hamlet, the greatest procrastinator in literary history, but I don't externalize Dane's inner turmoil as Bill does Hamlet's. It's repressed, supressed. My professor told me that non-comedic short stories require emotion, either directly evoked or repressed in ways that evoke them anyways...And he's right.

But does finding a "plot" or a series of actions, make this necessarily a more touching story? I sort of wrote this as therapy to try and grapple with questions that have been plaguing me about Marie and I's relationship, so does moving away from that, casting judgement on the proceedings, crafting an end for a story that doesn't really have one--do these things betray my story? Or do they just keep me from being like any other self-indulgent junior artist?

Why write at all if you write for no one? That is the question. But on the flip side of the coin: why write for anyone if you don't first write for yourself? That is the OTHER question. Am I betraying myself by straying from my intent for the piece, just to draft something that is more dramatically satisfying?

Exacerbating this, is that I know the piece is flawed as is, especially my use of epic similes which are hugely lopsided toward the beginning of the story...and then...slowly...fade...away...
at...the...e...n...d as I run out of creative similes.

The primary example I've looked at is Stephen Crane's amazing short story "The Open Boat" about four survivors of a shipwreck as they struggle with exhaustion amid an indifferent sea. The majority of their struggle takes place as they drift about just outside the surf of a beach that would topple their boat if they tried to make a dash for shore...which is a problem because they're so exhausted, they would most definitely drown if they didn't get in close enough. Crane has four sharply defined characters, in a dire situation, with time and nature working against them, and then the brutal irony of contemplating death when they can see safety with their very own eyes. When they finally make a go for it, it is a very suspenseful sequence as there has been so much build up to it. And though three of them make it to shore, barely, one of them does not and even this 75% survival rate cannot stand up to the overpowering sense of loss at even just one of them drowning, literally, in water shallow enough to stand up in. Very, very powerful prose. And it's told in a very cool objective, deeply observational and unemotional voice. But the events are so powerful, that despite this distant voice, we can't help but be drawn in right into the open lifeboat with these men.

Obviously, I have a lot of admiration for this story. And I'm sure the weaknesses of my story stand in sharp contrast to this. My story is hardly a matter of life and death---even if one's relationship with their beloved (or lack thereof) is one of the most powerful emotional situations in human existence--I've still got content working against me. Relationship woes can heal, maybe, with time and the help of others, but death is irrevocable.

As a response to The Open Boat, I wrote a brief, but really, really engaging ending sentence that is sort of an extension of my short story, but the problem is that as is, the short story has almost nothing to do with this sort of ending. I'll put it below, just in case it never ends up in anything else I write:

"And years later, as he lay dying thousands of miles away from their old home, Dane could think of nothing else but why there were no stars in the sky."

A little context: the story opens comparing relationships to a binary star system, so bringing it back around to the stars is essential at the end, but the lack of stars is the lack of a relationship. Obviously, he would have to have ended their relationship for this ending to have any coherent meaning. The problem is integrating it in the piece. Ending with Dane's demise, not to mention setting it up, is a lot of reverse-engineering. And since the story is supposed to be objective, I would in fairness, need to include Kelli's status at the same time as Dane's death. And as I said, reworking this whole thing is a LOT of work...and I've got 11 hours and 49 minutes as of this writing...I've written more in less time, but still. I want to make the right decision. I want to craft a compelling piece, that still stays true to my artistic intent. Find that happy middle ground where the author and reader meet each other half-way. And I'm just not sure how far to go.

...I guess I could use one of John Cage's "Oblique Strategies" (yes, I am a dxarts major): "Take it all the way, then bring it make just a little."

I need to get to work.

Listening to: Arctic Monkeys

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sketching with Words

A few light sketches of barely-parsed ideas regarding some preliminary thoughts:

With this next short story, I have two--three formal principles I want to fulfill:
1. I want to write a completely linear narrative
--> I feel liked I've been hiding my lack of facility with emotional storytelling behind a distracting veil of post-modern, non-linear and preciously ambiguous storytelling--and I'm tired of it. For now, at least.

2. I want to focus on developing a character before I develop the narrative
--> In tandem with my reliance upon fractured storytelling to hide a weak story, I feel like I've also been using non-linearity to hide weak (or non-existent) characters.

3. Develop a metaphor out of who the character is, using what s/he thematically does
--> I seem to have, so far, been callously using my characters to push my own propaganda. I haven't cared for them, or fell deeply in love or deeply hated them. Their purposes in my narratives aren't even, literally, skin deep. I want to feel passionately about my characters, the way I do about my ideas.

While I will probably never abandon my desire to sculpt/loop/fragment time--cinema is, after-all, one of only a few ways we can ever attain some sense of *visual* temporal objectivity over discrete moments of time--but I think I'd like to set it aside for the time being, and focus on the things that make a good story worth hearing/seeing/telling/showing: characters we love and love to hate, and putting them through their personal hells so they may or may not find their personal heavens. Someday, probably not very far off, I'll circle back to non-linear storytelling. But hopefully, by such time, I'll be armed with more narrative and characteristic confidence and finesse than is currently within my grasp.

Here's to trying.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Band-Aid recursion

I have a 10-page short story to write tonight. Due by 1pm tomorrow. I haven't been putting it off or procrastinating or anything like that. I simply have not had enough time to work on it because it hasn't been as urgent a priority as work of my others classes simply because of due dates.

And now I'm going to be reaping the consequences of my decision to take 17 credits this quarter. And let me note that 5 of those credits are for a Computer Animation class that is really 10-12 credits worth of work. If I was taking only that class, I would still feel like I was taking a comfortable, not difficult though, full-time load.

That said, I made a conscious decision to take 17 credits, including this prose class, knowing that animation would be as much if not more of a bitch than last quarter--at this point, I'd say it's more of a bitch. But what's undeniable is the sheer amount of shit I'm learning in it. That is mos def true.

Of course, because of my ridiculous schedule, I've hardly had much time to spend wiht Marie, especially this last week or so. Naturally, it's been pretty rough for her. And when things is rough for her...they're rough for me. At the moment, I'm locked in a bit of an argument with her about whether or not I should come home tonight--

I'm at the undergrad library at uw, which is where I do my emergency writing, and I'm leery of going home because of the enormous amount of writing I have to do. If I went home now, I'd be surprised if I started writing before 2am. And I need to try to be half-finished by two, not getting started.

To be sure, I have a "plan" and two.five pages already written and I am something of a fast writer--but I have really bitten off quite a bit for myself this time.

To wit:
The story is a metaphor for the unending cycle of war, using the model of the myth of Sisyphus, transplanted onto the life of an aid station combat medic in an unnamed combat zone. I've also thought of leaving his name un-named as well. I'm still debating that count.

The story moves in cycles of three: Three incidents of trauma, three incidents of mundanity, bookended (as of this moment) by a first a scene in a mess hall where we meet the medic and his ill-fated medic buddy, and a final scene where he essentially becomes aware that this cycle of his daily routine, is for all intents and purposes, unending. The final line, I'm not sure if this is spoken or not, is : "All bleeding end eventually. Be patient."

That's it in a nutshell.

Some thoughts I've had today on it:
- The story is already rightfully episodic, I should embrace that and really highlight that as an attribute by adding perhaps chapter-breaks dare I say it, episode breaks?
- To reenforce the cyclical nature, I could keep flashing back to the mess-hall scene throughout, breaking the linear monotony of the episodes by, Lost-style, having flashbacks that reveal a truth about the current story.
- I'm not sure if I want to have the entire scene during the first flash-back, and with each subsequent one, just pare it down more and more until it's a purely graphical image
- Or if I want to break it up into relevant parts. I kind of think it could work either way, though it really might be better the latter way. That way the story's always moving forward.
- I think to help differentiate the flashbacks from the real-time stories, I'd like to have each one told in a different voice. Same character, just first person in one, 3rd in another.
- Should one be told in past tense and another in present? The perspective may help determine this...Though, do I want to be contrarian, or linear?
- The end, regardless of which way the perspective changes go, needs to be a sublimation of the two. And I think it ought to be told in first person.
- So if the end is in first person, present tense too, then perhaps the hospital scenes should be in first-person past tense, and the mess-hall scenes in third-person present
- I still need to figure out what to do with the bloody hands. It's a nice image, but it ultimately may not work

This is easily going to be the most flat-out ambitious story I've ever written. In terms of story, I've had to do a fair amount of research (both on technical stuff and on similar prose-efforts at extreme irony). Technically, this is going to be massively ambitious as well. And my slowly growing desire to make the arrangement of words on the page have a purely visual graphic quality as much as it has a linguistic quality will also be taken many steps beyond my last attempt. And I don't think I've ever had a more perfect marriage of theme and content in any of my work. I'm not sure I've ever had any fore-thought marriage of theme and content though, now that I think of it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Researching Band-Aids Vol. 1

The last post resulted in an idea for a short story that riffs on Camus' interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus by implanting his logic of the absurd and the notion of the infinitely looping, self-aware though it be, existence of man into a story about a medic who spends everyday tending to the mundane and the dramatic, and ends everyday trying to wash the blood from his hands but failing to do so.

The problems are as follows: 1) Balancing an appropriate level of detail with the overriding allegorical elements (hence "realistic allegory") which of course implies...
2) Research. I have to get my facts straight and my ideas concrete and my situations realistic (there's that word again), which in turn leads to...
3) Blood. The bookends of the piece are him trying to wash the blood from his hands but, failing to do so, giving up and finding a way to live with the blood on his hands. At the beginning, we don't know whose blood it is. At the end, he's washing the blood of his best friend off...The problem: blood doesn't stain...
5) But does iodine?
6) Place/time: How to root it in a particular level of detail sufficient to be richly evocative without embedding it in a specific conflict that has specific contexts...
7) Which brings us back to #1 (how appropo!): Balance the story's allegory with it's need for credible detail.

Anyway you swing this axe, it all comes down to research--which is exactly what I'm about to commence.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Writing is a Sisyphean Task

The problem with a Rashomon-riff is that Kurosawa's film said pretty much everything there is to say about truth being a many-sided object, including that there can be no ultimate truth if there is no one truth.
What was I thinking earlier? Back to Iraq but...the VBIED I was nearest to during my deployment was actually kind of humorous. They hid the explosives in a potato truck, so when the thing detonated, it flew mashed potatoes all over the street. Luckily, it malfunctioned. It blew the driver in half, and I think some shrapnel killed an Iraqi guard or two. But the thing I remember most was the street just being literally covered in potatoes. It was completely surreal. I wish I'd gotten a photograph of it, I really do. But at that point, I was so exhausted and sick of photography, that I couldn't even think creatively anymore with the still image. That coupled with the fact that I spent at least part of my time at the scene fending off guys requests to be photographed with body parts from the suicide bomber left me kind of de-motivated.

But what was I thinking earlier?

I was remarking on how one can easily lose their compass when confronted with such a disparately absurd tableau as the one I've tried to construct above. How do you react to a suicide bomber whose bomb malfunctioned but still managed to kill himself and possibly two others and left the road covered in potatoes? How do you react to something so utterly ridiculous? The potatoes just completely removes any sense of drama. And yet it can't be completely superfluous and comical because--hey!--there's a piece of an ear and--hey!--there's a trail of blood and--oh yeah!--that's where his foot went...I guess the way I worded it makes it kind of morbidly humorous, but nevertheless it's certainly not comical. Gallows humor? A certain kind of savage humor, definitely.

I think Camus answered this proposition best by (very paraphrased) saying something to the effect that when man is confronted with the reality of the absurd, his lucidity is what makes him happy. That even at his moment of greatest defeat, he can have his greatest triumph. Though he knows that his life is meaningless and all his efforts fruitless and futile, this clarity of vision is a victory over the absurdity of life in and of itself. So in that little epiphany lies man's transcendence. In the Absurd World, man cannot triumph over his fate but by accepting it...That's a very Zen philosophy.

Now the questions: how can I construct a story to embody that insight, deeply felt though it is.


So we start with a character. A man. What is a properly Sisyphean fate for him in the context of a realistic allegory? His fate must be one that embodies infinite repetition. Something can't motivate his appreciation of his fate. It must be a self-realization or its worthless. Infinite repetition, with a break in the repetitive act that allows a moment of reflection before willfully charging once more into the breach.

So, parameters so far:
- Man
- Infinitely repetitive action
- Break in action to allow for reflection
- Realizes his fate every night and rises every morning to accept it

What is the ultimate repetitive occupation?

A medic in the army -- no nation, no conflict, just a medic -- wakes up everyday to triage the wounded and save the dying and goes to bed every night knowing that when he wakes up in the morning he will be doing exactly the same thing tomorrow --


And we're golden. Huzzah!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Writing for Writing's Sake Vol. 2

So I've kind of ditched the "writer's block" headings for the above--mostly because I don't need the bad juju that comes with uttering those words. So I'll keep it at a more reflexive heading while I muse about what the fuck I'm going to write about...

I have to come up with a "Story Preview / Plan" for tomorrow (in addition to the parable I've already written), and the field is wide-open as far as ideas go. I think the one thing I'm going to try my best to avoid is Iraq-anything. The intent is for it to be a "realistic allegory"; so I could touch on philosophical issues raised by my experiences, but nothing directly Iraqi. Realistic allegory also means no talking pigs a la "Three Little Pigs" which, incidentally, we had to study this past week in the class.

I've internet-ed away the past hour ==> which means I'm leery of doing actual work. Probably because ideation is always the hardest fucking part. Starting with a blank slate and all...and I feel fresh out of good ideas. I had two good ones last night, between the revision of the story for my animation class and the parable that I wrote.

But tonight, tonight.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Writing for Writing's Sake

I only have a few minutes before I have to depart for CSE Movie Nite Round 1 (starring Troy: the Director's Cut!?--we'll see if it makes any difference at all), but I've got a whole lot of writing to do tonight. However, since I don't have the time to get into any sort of groove in 10 minutes, I thought I'd just muse over it a tad.

Well the first part of my writing assignment for 384 involves writing a parable--that's the great thing about this class, by the way: we're not just given readings in a vacuum, we're given very specific readings with very pointed things to be studying towards to end of creativity. It's kind of nice actually, to not be given some massive tome, be expected to read it in a manner so fast that you might remember a sentence every other chapter, and then asked, "Well, what did you think?"

At any rate, we have to write a parable, a simple, effective, utterly concise story that carries some sort of metaphorical meaning(s). One I'm toying with is tentatively titled "The River" about a journey downriver by two(?) people. One of whom, for some reason, desires to go back up the river, but is reminded he cannot by his companion(s). I still need to work out the motivations and the ending, but I want the story to be slightly humorous, and very, very short. I'm aiming for 250 words, give or take. Definitely no more than 500.

The metaphor I want to play with is the notion that time lost cannot be regained. So regardless of how you spend your time, that is the only time you will be spending that time. It's kind of cheeky, and I'm not going to externalize this in the story, but essentially: "Life is a river that flows one direction. It has eddys and rapids and waterfalls, but always it flows downstream."

Kind of sweet, huh?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

An Observation

Now that I've gotten into to 384, and will likely (hopefully) get into 487 "Screenwriting" next quarter, I've seen a curious and welcome pattern emerge:

Fine Arts: DX200, 201, 202 (in progress)

Cinema: DX450, 451, 452, 453 (complete)

Animation: CSE458, 459, 460 (in progress)

Research: DX400 x 3 (in progress)

And finally:

Writing: ENGL284, 384, 487

With 384 bridging the gap between my completion of 284 and 487, I'll have a full-year's work in fiction writing that culminates with a study of screenwriting. Since I've done a full year's work in filmmaking (not counting 450 "intro to video"), am currently doing a full year's work in art-research and computer animation, and will complete a full year's work in broad-strokes digital arts and experimental media when I complete DXARTS 202 this Spring, it's fitting that I should add to that a full year's work of fiction writing. It feels good--it feels right.

And of course, all of that will culminate with a year of intense work on a single thesis project next year, likely to be a video of some epic ambition (though videos plural is a possibility).

Now it's just a matter of doing the work. Right, that thing.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Quarterly Update

The new quarter's begun, and not a moment too soon: I think around 1030 this morning as I got my ass out of bed, I finally shook the last vestiges of my fall quarter hangover. Every quarter my ass gets handed to me, I always think that's going to be the worst of it, and man is it ever downhill from here! Well, of course, I've had about five or six such moments over the last two years, and last quarter was definitely the heaviest of them. So it's likely that this quarter will be worse, yeah? I'm okay with that though, if I know that going in. And honestly, all it's going to compel me to do is manage my time more effectively...(which I just had trouble doing)...but more on that later.

The hard work was worth it though. I earned the highest GPA I've gotten since high school. Maybe higher than high school. But I also got more out of last quarter than I've yet gotten out of any quarter at UW. To wit: I went from zero knowledge of Maya to being somewhat comfortable with it; I co-animated a short animated film; I wrote and designed 5+ stories-for-film/animation; I made two videos--one vignette and one short film; I finally created a website for myself; and I wrote 5 prose short stories in the span of about three days. Now that it's all listed out and I can take a look at it--it's really not bad. Really, really not bad, what I accomplished in the span of two-and-a-half months.

But lets not start sucking each other's dicks--er, rather, my own--just yet. As I said, a new quarter's just begun. And it's likely to get more difficult, not less. So no dick sucking for me.

Speaking of this quarter, I got back-doored into English 384 "The Craft of Prose" literally just before I started this post. It's the next step up from English 284, the short story class I enrolled in last summer, took an incomplete in so I could go get fired off of a film in New York (still worth it though), and then finished up in a mad dash of writing this last quarter so as not to get a 0.0--which an INC converts to if it's not completed by the end of the following quarter. I'm actually looking forward to 384 quite a bit. It should be quite challenging, but when it comes to writing I'm not one to shake in my boots at a challenge--it's my natural talent. Still, my main concern is that it's going to be difficult and coupled with my computer animation class, I could have very, very little free time (a.k.a. sleep time) this quarter.

-- Just cut-off my first real time management violation. Typed the URL and hit ENTER. But I managed to cut myself off just before the page finished loading. I dig the website, and find the writer's opinions entertaining and sometimes even enlightening, but the days where the words of critics were gospel to my sensibilities is over. And incessantly checking their site for updates over and over again does not get me any closer toward being a good filmmaker. If anything, it deters me by forcing my to give up sleep and TLC with my lady in favor of a website that I can handily check once a day for a few minutes and get all the info I need from it. Instead, my habits tend toward the "Let's see, I'm getting bored with my current activity, I'll take a quick break." Except that this habit is so ingrained, the afore-written thought-process is barely an after thought now.

This is surely the scatter-shot epicenter of my time mismanagement tumor, and one of my primary goals this quarter is to surgically remove it from my afflicted habits.

Speaking of goals, let's talk tangibles (in no particular order):
1. Continue my exercise/diet routine
2. Manage my time more effectively by cutting out needless internet surfing
3. Narrow-in on improving my fiction writing
4. Regularly take notes in my notebook
5. Maintain my website
6. Post regularly in this blog
7. Pace myself in terms of homework, doing more now so I can do less later
8. Take the initiative to pro-actively engage with the learning opportunities presented to me this quarter regardless of their apparent degree of relevance to my cinematic pursuits (e.g. Maya minutia, prosaic writing (as opposed to image writing), non-cinematic digital and experimental arts
9. Being when it's time to be, doing when it's time to do--and knowing which is appropriate for when