Friday, December 30, 2011

Goals 2012: The Goals Themselves

My goals for 2012 are going to be realistic and achievable: 30 hours of craft-work a week, split between the two areas of the craft that I care about: story construction and visual storytelling.

I) Story Construction
  1. I will finish writing my current feature script
  2. I will write a second feature script
  3. I will write a short film*
  4. I will co-write a comic book miniseries
  5. I will read a screenplay a week**
  6. I will read Aristotle's Poetics and one add'l craft-related book
II) Visual Storytelling
  1. I will form a weekly peer-oriented directing workshop
  2. I will direct the noted (*) short film
  3. I will take at least one improv class
  4. I will thumbnail one scene from the noted (**) script each week
  5. I will watch one movie with the sound off each week
  6. I will finish reading Impro and read one add'l craft-related book
If I put my heart into it and be sensible about achieving the above, then by the end of 2012, I will have:
  • Written 2 feature screenplays
  • Written 1 comic book series
  • Written and Directed 1 short film
  • Read 52 screenplays
  • Thumbnail'd 52 scenes
  • Watched 52 movies silently
  • Read 4 craft-related books
  • Taken 1 improv class
  • Participated in 52 directing workshops
Looking over these, the ones that stand out to me as most important are naturally the ones that are in greatest danger of not happening. I will have to be extra vigilant to ensure that my goals involving PRACTICE & CREATION are put ahead of STUDY -- at least until such time as all three can be naturally executed in proper proportion.

Goals 2012: Where do I want to go as a storyteller?

As in the previous posts, the following questions are taken from Scott Myers' Go Into The Story blog.

* Do you want just to write movies?

Movies are what it's always been about for me. If all I ever did was write for film, I would be okay with that. I have written a spec for fun, and I'm planning a comic with a friend who is an artist, but those are more for the exercise, the experience, than any true professional ambitions. I love telling stories with pictures, any medium, including theater, that does that, I will someday probably consider dabbling in. But it begins and ends with two hours of light projected onto a silver screen.

* Do you want to write and direct?

I absolutely want to direct. Directing and writing have always gone hand-in-hand for me. At first, I wanted to be a writer, but then I found myself taking over the camera when making movies with my friends. And at a certain point, I made a career decision that I didn't want to put my scripts in someone else's hands. As I began to devote concurrent study to visual storytelling and directing actors, my passion for it grew to encompass writing. Soon enough, the relationship reversed, and I wanted to write my own scripts because I didn't want my directing career to depend on waiting around for a script to direct. And so on.

Now, I've reached an equilibrium where I consider everything from the dreaming up the story all the way through to mastering the sound at the very end a vital and valid part of the storytelling process.

Apart from that, when I write for too long, I get cabin fever and need to get out on my feet and be physical, collaborating with designers and especially actors to craft the living movie. Once that invariably burns me out, I'm ready to hole back up in a room and stare at a screen for 16-hours a day, stitching the pieces together. Throwing that out, mixng and matching, and re-stitching until a complete, pointed motion picture exists.

And by then I'm burnt out on the story entirely and ready to go to work on a new one.

* Do you want to write and produce?

Right now, producing doesn't interest me. But I imagine that a lot of the logistical work I actually do when directing short films is technically "producing", so I imagine that at some point, being the control freak that I am, I'll take up producing my work as well. Probably to the same extent that Spielberg or Cameron produce their own work -- may I be so fortunate.

* Do you want to bounce between writing big commercial movies and character-driven indie films?

I don't distinguish between the two. I try to craft stories that require only what they need to be told. That said, a story about the final battle for the future of mankind? It probably needs a MASSIVE budget. A story that features a plummet from 150,000 feet to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean? Probably needs MASSIVE budget. You get the idea.

* Do you want to write screenplays and novels?

When I was 9 I thought I wanted to be a novelist. As I tried to write novels over the next few years, I slowly realized that the only reason I read novels was because my parents wouldn't let me watch movies on weeknights. So I'd read novels as a kid, and every night I'd watch them as movies in my head. Then when my friends and I started making short films in junior high, my writing naturally transitioned to visual storytelling. The rest is history.

* Do you want to carve out a niche writing specific types of movies or write across multiple genres?

As I mentioned in a previous post, science fiction is my bread-and-butter, war my stock-and-trade. Given that, it shouldn't be a surprise that my first feature script was a post-apocalyptic war story.

But as a rule I like stories of all kinds, provided they're well-crafted, emotional, and not self-indulgent dramatically or artistically. As broad as that is, it actually includes a very narrow range of films; the very best. Casablanca and Aliens are my two favorite films, and could they be any different? They're as unlike as two films can be except in one regard: the pitch-perfection of their level of craft. If every movie I made was a hybrid of those two, I still wouldn't complain. But I'm also drawn to the high adventure -- The African Queen was the first "classic" film that I fell in love with. I was age 8, home sick with food poisoning for three days. I watched it every damn day I was sick and rarely have I felt better. I love Hitchcock's witty suspense films: Rear Window, Notorious, NxNW, Shadow of a Doubt. John Ford's westerns, especially Stagecoach and The Searchers.

And I don't say "love" with empty respect, I'm not praising these films because I feel obligated to -- they really are the movies that fuel my passion.

It's also not a coincidence that mentioned Spielberg and Cameron earlier. The depth, breadth, and diversity of their careers has been an inspiration for me my whole life. They were the first two filmmakers I became consciously aware of. As much as I love "Star Wars", I came to it a later in childhood than most. Instead, the "Star Wars" of my childhood were "The Terminator", "The Abyss", and especially "Aliens". I had those three on constant rotation before I ever knew they were made by the same guy. Likewise, "Jaws", "E.T.", "Indiana Jones", and "Close Encounters". I was a Cameron/Spielberg fanboy many times over before my friends' love of "Star Wars" became infectious.

So if I had to pick, I'd want my career to be as malleable as those two great filmmakers' careers have been. I want to be able to jump from one genre to another as nimbly as Spielberg, and and embed myself in SciFi as deeply as Cameron has, before shifting gears to spy thrillers and historical action/romances. Do I want to make the next Titanic? No. But do I want to be the next Spielberg or Cameron? Not that either.

I want to take those influences and be the first Erik LeDrew.*


*(special thanks to Jackie Chan for the assist)

Goals 2012: Where am I as a storyteller?

The following bullet-point questions were taken from Scott Meyers' Go Into the Story blog. I am going to use them to help assess where I am as a storyteller.

* Is this where I want to be as a writer?

This is a difficult question to parse, because there are three different answers, depending on the context of the question.

In terms of craft, I am on the path I want to be on. I have a greater understanding of story and the telling than I ever have, thanks to the continued guidance of my mentor, and continued exposure to numerous great films. I also cannot underestimate how great it was have a partner to develop the story and outline of my current script. Not only was it creatively fruitful, but it taught me a great deal about myself, my strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller, and my creative process. I tend to like to work from the gut, but within a strong structural framework. For example, I must know that the path to story event 'C' starts with 'A', but I love improvising and spitballing my way through 'B'. This "dreaming" part of the process might be my favorite part. According to Gary Ross, it's by far the most important part to him. When it comes to actually writing, I'm a bit of a control freak with my prose, so it's all well and good that my writing partner eventually tapped-out. I think the dreaming was his favorite part too, so there's no hard feelings either way. I still run ideas and, now, pages past him as I work through things, but the bulk of the work now falls on me. I am okay with this.

In terms of process, I am not satisfied. I have not yet managed to make writing an organic part of my everyday life. It helps having zeroed-in on a specific project now, but for weeks I've been languishing, stressing myself out over my lack of concrete definitive progress. My natural state of being is to work in fits and starts, but that's not conducive to a healthy, productive lifestyle. So I want to change my process to a more regular one, with less periods of high- and extremely low-intensity, and a more consistent, persistent state of progress.

And In terms of my profession, I am not satisfied. I have a great job, I do not as yet have a career. And it is a daily struggle to keep from feeling like every hour not spent writing and directing movies, every hour not spent telling stories, is an hour wasted. I think this sense of personal failure would diminish if I could get onto a more regular writing schedule, even if I'm still not yet a paid "professional". But let's unpack that word "professional" anyway -- my mentor told me that a writer doesn't become a professional when he gets paid. A writer becomes a professional, and then gets paid.

* Am I writing what I want to be writing?

As a matter of fact, I absolutely am writing what I want to be writing. I am not writing as much as I want to be writing, but I am telling the stories I want to tell. I imagine this will become more of a problem the closer to the profession I get. But right now, the only thing I answer to over the context and content of my stories is my heart.

* What do I want to write?

if science fiction is my bread and butter, war stories are my stock-and-trade. All of my ambitions tend to point toward speculative ficton, including my two feature scripts and a few of the ideas for short films that I have. But in practice, the vast majority of my storytelling revolves around or derives from my experiences in combat. I know I can't keep milking it forever, and what's more, the further I get from literal war, the bet my storytelling seems to get. This is why it was such a challenge to hone down my love-in-war short film DESERTERS from its initial unsightly, ungainly, uninteresting 25 minutes to a reasonably sharp, pointed, emotional 7m45s.

Everyone says "write what you know" but I think it should be the other way around: "Know what you write." Storytelling requires objective construction as much as it requires a subjective "voice", and speaking just for myself, writing what I know is simply too dangerous a proposition for thematic and structural discipline. I get too easily overwhelmed.

This doesn't bode well for the war stories coming up that I have to write after my current script, but I hope that with practice, I'll get better at exerting control over the subjective elements of my stories and be able to tell something more conventionally "personal", because I do have a few war-derived stories that have crackerjack concepts.

* What do I need to write?

I need to write, simply put. I have a good instinct for drama and story that I am continually honing and learning to better hear, but it's all for nothing if I'm not writing regularly.

* Is there a particular story I have surfaced about which I am particularly passionate?

Right now, the SF script is the story demanding my attention -- it's strong, intense, and has something passionate to say. I'm not worried about losing interest, only in stalling-out from lack of progress. The war-derived story that I recently cracked the mythic structure for is up next -- that and a transcontinental Western are the two calling to me to be hashed-out and dramatized after the current one.

* Has something important happened in my life this year which has shifted my writing perspective?

This past year was an incredible eye-opener for me and truly humbling. There's really nothing quite like having no income and being in danger of eviction (we eventually made the last month's rent and moved out voluntarily, but we couldn't have made it another month) to really put the fear in you, so to speak. I really cannot emphasize how enormous an impact it had on my perspective of life, on how I see the poor and homeless, the hungry and the downtrodden. Between being unemployed, having my short film rejected by film festival after festival, and having a hard time excelling at freelance commercial gigs, it really brought me down to Earth. The simple fact of having no money, knowing that none was coming in, and having this great ambition to be a successful filmmaker one day -- the incongruity of it was enough to make me realize just how goddamn hard it is to succeed, and that nobody is going to give it to me. it was enough to make me realize that I have to put in the effort myself, and that it will be a long, hard road filled with blood, sweat, tears and broken dreams before I can achieve my goals.

A few things came to me this year, that proved to be particularly apt, namely, something Sam Raimi said on the Spider-man 2 commentary which I listened to a few months back, when I was just beginning to crawl out from under the weight of unemployment. Raimi said, "The thing about Hollywood is that no one wants to give you a shot. But if you go and prove you don't need a shot, suddenly everyone will want to work with you." That, more than anything, is what I'm trying to figure out how to achieve at this moment.

* Am I in touch with my Creative Self?

When I raved earlier about how great it was having a partner to develop the story for my current script, I think this was one of the things I was getting at. I started to notice that when I read an outline for a scene, or a sequence, that I'd get a gut reaction. I'd begin to feel either like I'd eaten something gross, or like I'd eaten something wonderful. It was sort of a hot/cold sensor, and I found the more we dreamt and spitballed, the more clearly I could read that sensor. I've come to the conclusion that this is my creative instinct, one that academia taught me to suppress. I've spent the last year getting back in touch with it and it feels glorious.

* What can I do to be a better writer?

Simply put, I need to STUDY and I need to PRACTICE, everyday. I'm naturally afraid of failure, so my first impulse is to revert to study when there is a conflict between the two. But I've done so much study and have only a few things to show for it, that I think I need to invert that relationship some, or at a minimum, find a happy medium.

I was caught in a pickle with this exact issue a few weeks ago; I didn't know whether I should commit to writing a script or to studying a particular filmmaker. Of course, my desire was to do both, but as I began to count up the hours I wanted to put into it, I began to realize it was pretty much impossible with a full-time job. So I turned to my writing partner, who at that point had ended his primary engagement with the project. His point was that when you practice, it forces you to synthesize everything you've learned up to that point, and even exponentially expands your understanding. And that is simply something I don't do enough of.

My takeaway is that, if study is my natural failsafe, I should direct my efforts into what is not my natural failsafe: PRACTICE -- and let study happen the way it naturally does anyway.

Goals 2012: Looking Back at 2011

I'm going to write a series of posts that hopefully will set me on the path to making some achievable, realistic goals for the year of 2012. I'm going to start this first post with an assessment of what I did and did not accomplish in 2011.


  1. I finished my short film DESERTERS, after an interminable post-production period.
  2. I finished the outline for the feature film I was co-developing with my friend and sometimes-writing partner Matt Davis.
  3. I began revisions of an ambitious script that I wanted to direct as my next short film, only to realize after a few days of work that the story would rather be a simple feature film than a dense short film. I set this aside until #2 is finished.
  4. I clarified the mythic story shape for a feature I intend to write after #2 and #3 are accomplished.
  5. I came up with an idea for a short, to fill the gap left by #3's ascension to feature status.
  6. I expanded the structural shape of another short script I've had knocking around for a while. Either #5 or #6 will be my next short film.
  7. And while this isn't a writing goal, it's a "goal" achieved nonetheless: After spending the second half of 2010 unemployed and the first half of 2011 bouncing from unemployment to unstable freelance gig to just being grateful for having any income at all, I finally landed a full-time job thanks to a good friend. The work is good, and although not directly related to storytelling, is close enough for the moment. The people are good. The place is good. And the pay ain't too bad either. I was the last person interviewed of dozens of people, so I'm very grateful to have landed this job and consider myself fortunate to have just barely made it in under the wire.

I'm not going to make a list, because that'd just be punishment, but I will point out a few things. I did not finish a single script this year -- short, feature, or otherwise. I did not completely revise any scripts this year. I did not make any new short films. And a part of me, while financially much more stable, doesn't feel any closer to having achieved my goals than I did a year ago.

That voice is unfair and inaccurate, but it does have a point: I didn't accomplish what I set out to accomplish a year ago. To be fair, I struggled just to find an income for the first half of the year, spent the summer training and getting used to my new job, and then only in the fall did things start to pick back up creatively.

In 2011, I moved the ball down the road. Not as far as I had hoped, but it did move forward, and that's important to remember.

In 2012, I will move it even further.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

CAST AWAY: a response

(NOTE: the following is in response to a series of exchanges on Brian McDonald's Invisible Ink blog here. I have posted my response in my blog because it FAR exceeds the character-limit on comments. Apologies for the hassle and, especially, to Brian for polluting the comments section of his blog.)

Hi LissBirds,

I want to respond to a few of the points in the comments of yours that Brian refrained from addressing. I don't want to do a point-by-point attack however, so I'm just going to address what I see as a few key points you make. One last note, before I begin: I recently read a draft of the script and re-watched the film, so I am speaking from a place of familiarity, for what it's worth.

With that said:


You say that 90% of people should at least appreciate a well-crafted film, even if they don't "like" it. If you refer to Box Office Mojo, Rotten Tomatoes, and IMDB's aggregate scoring systems, you’ll see that they all rate CAST AWAY fairly highly.

Of about 4,000 votes on Box Office Mojo, 35.9% of users rate it an "A", with 47.7% of users rating it a "B". 83.6% positive is pretty close to your 90% figure. On IMDB, 124,000 users have rated CAST AWAY an average of 7.4/10, with 82% rating it 7 or higher. And on Rotten Tomatoes, 90% of critics rate it "fresh", while 650,000 users rate it an average of 80/100.

Those are pretty consistent figures for a film you say is poorly constructed, and that less than 90% of viewers like or appreciate (80% is close enough, may we all be so fortunate to hit even that).

However, I understand that some of these sites' users may be a thin spread of the movie-going populace at large -- and what the hell do critics know, anyway? -- so let's look at the box office as a sampling of general opinion upon release: CAST AWAY grossed $233 million dollars in the US, with a total global gross of over $400 million. That's a pretty big sum for a movie that has a poorly structured first act and no conflict. This gross was even more significant ten years ago when there was no Imax or 3D to jack up ticket prices.

If we look closer at the B.O., the most important indicator of popular opinion is the week-to-week drop in box office, a.k.a. the "word of mouth effect". If a movie is bad, for example, it should have a steep % drop from one week to the next in terms of gross. The better a movie is, in theory, the lower the drop from week-to-week and the higher the second weekend grosses are. According to IMDB, CAST AWAY's second weekend grosses were actually HIGHER than its first weekend grosses, which were themselves pretty good.

So CAST AWAY not only avoided a sharp drop-off typical of large openings, but it went up in revenue. This indicates a rare kind of word-of-mouth: the "you-gotta-see-this-now" variety that was more common in the 70s and early 80s than in the last 25 years.

For what it’s worth, CAST AWAY was also nominated for two Oscars -- but so was The Phantom Menace, so fuck that as a barometer for quality.

Even more important than all these abstract numbers, however persuasive, is what average movie-goers think of CAST AWAY today, a time when many are liable to forget a movie they disliked 10 years ago.

I'm not about to go do a man-on-the-street, but just in talking with, say, my mother, I can tell you that she remembers CAST AWAY very well. Usually when I ask my mother about a movie she saw a while ago, I only get a response after I’ve given her an extensive breakdown of its plot, and after I've given her a rundown of all its stars and the other movies they've acted in. In short, she is not a cinephile, filmmaker, or storyteller of any kind. But when I ask her about CAST AWAY, she has an emotional reaction to just the mention of the film's title. It is a movie that rides high in her consciousness, a space reserved only for movies like SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, CASABLANCA, and HOUSE BUNNY.

But who cares about some lady's opinion, when we're talking about Art, right?


Being that this is Brian's blog, let's do him the courtesy of at least evaluating the film on his terms. Brian's definition of the three acts is as follows:

"ACT 1 -- Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em";

"ACT 2 -- Tell 'em";

"ACT 3 -- Tell 'em what ya' told 'em".

He simplifies this further to: "Proposal", "Argument", "Conclusion".

Act 1, "The Proposal": CAST AWAY begins by telling us this is a story about a man named Chuck Noland (“C. No land”, if you like) whose personal life suffers because of his intense commitment to a job that demands things always be on time. He does not extend this intensity to his personal life, so his commitments to his loved ones suffer. “A man-obsessed with FedEx making good time, fails to make good on his own time” is one way you could word CAST AWAY’s dramatic proposition. Brian's blog outlines the many ways in which the film's first act dramatizes this idea.

The first act ends with Chuck *choosing* to leave a family dinner and board a doomed plane. He even delays a marriage proposal (one of life’s greatest commitments) so that he can fulfill the commitments of his job. This is not an individual living a balanced life.

Act 2, "The Argument": Chuck must pay the price for his decision, and *the storytellers choose to exact this price* by stranding him on a desert island. No, the setting does not matter, not really. The setting could be a Russian Gulag, it could be the moon. What matters is that the setting fulfill the same circumstances: Is Chuck alone? Is he cut-off completely from the loved ones that he neglected? Does he "have all the time in the world" to reflect on this? And lastly, your question, is there conflict to drive the story forward?

To all of these I answer, yes, yes, yes, and hell yes.

Once on the island, Chuck must fight for every minute he is alive. This fight is humanity’s most primal conflict: "Man vs. Nature". At the same time he is fighting tooth and nail to survive, he is also wrestling with his old way of life, his fears for his loved ones, and what they must be going through on his behalf. While Man vs. Nature is the most primal conflict, this internal conflict is the most elevated: "Man vs. Himself".

It is absurd to say that CAST AWAY has "no conflict". I think what you and Mr. Truby mean to say is that there is no *interpersonal* conflict: "Man vs. Man". This is only one form of conflict, and to limit your definition of conflict to just this one variation is a) depriving you of many great stories and b) a mistake.

Act 3, "Conclusion": Chuck has paid the price for his decisions and his new way of living must be put to the test.

This act comprises Chuck’s attempts to reintegrate with society as he revisits all the people he left behind. It focuses on showing him (and us) the ways in which his disappearance, as a direct result of his decision to board that plane, has damaged the relationships that he has learned to value most. In many cases, these relationships are damaged in ways that are beyond repair. Because of these broken relationships, Chuck suddenly has no incentive to continue practicing the lesson he learned on the island. The climax of the film is a test of Chuck's new way of life: can he hold fast to this balanced way of living, when his reasons for changing are no longer present?

The film answers this question during Chuck's monologue (you know the one), and then gives us a short series of scenes that show us how he sticks to his new way of life for no other reason than that it is the right way to live. Only then do we see that he has truly “learned his lesson”.

CAST AWAY is tightly structured -- but who cares about good craft when our hero has no "flaw"?


In response to one of your comments, Brian raised the question as to whether it's possible for a well-crafted film to be either plot-driven or character-driven. I hope to answer this while discussing Chuck's character.

Chuck is a flawless character -- but I mean that in the complimentary sense because he is flawed to the extent that his "problem" is exactly what it needs to be to tell the story the tellers wanted to tell. Let's use Rod Serling's principle (via Brian) that "THEME determines CHARACTER and then on to PLOT".

If this is a story whose theme is that it is important to slow down and appreciate the life we have and those we share it with, then what better character to embody that than someone who is unable to do so -- a character whose use of his time is weighted so heavily on the side of his professional life, that he has no time for his personal life? If this character is to learn this lesson and be tested by the end of the story, then the plot would dictate that something needs to happen to him to force this change. As I said before, it could be being sent to prison, it could be crash landing on the moon. As long as the character makes the decision that incites the story's primary action, it doesn't really matter whether it's an act of god or act of man.

What is even more important than how the character gets IN to the scenario, is how the character gets OUT of the scenario. And to get off the island, Chuck does everything he humanly can, going far beyond anything we would consider a reasonable course of action in our "everyday" world. He consigns himself to almost certain death on the open ocean, just because the slim hope of escaping back to his loved ones became more important than living another day without them.

I'm sure you can see the chain of construction here, how the theme of CAST AWAY determined its character, which in turn determined its plot.

Brian's question regarding plot-driven vs. character-driven films was a trick question. The answer is that stories must be THEME-DRIVEN. The theme determines everything -- what the character's defining problem is, what events must occur in order to resolve their problem, what the supporting arguments ("subplots") should be in order to construct a well-rounded argument, and how that character’s growth should be tested. Theme goes further, it also helps us determine whether this should be a “guiding light” type of story, one where we’re shown how we can change our lives for the better, regardless of how tough things get. Or whether it should be a “cautionary tale”, where we’re shown the dangers of not changing our harmful ways. CAST AWAY is a "guiding light" story.

Theme is the engine that powers construction. Characters are chassis only.


As for backstory, an audience only needs to know a character's backstory to the extent that they know enough to understand the character's actions. In FINDING NEMO, we're given the opening scene for several reasons, but it's hardly "backstory". Reason 1: so that we don't see Marlin as a character unworthy of our sympathy. For us to sympathize with a character who has such an exaggerated dysfunctional relationship with his son, we have to know how this came about. Likewise, in CASABLANCA, Rick is a bitter, cutthroat character -- until we know that he was once idealistic and happy, before the love of his life broke his heart. From then on, we understand Rick's actions, we sympathize with his pain, and we recognize his attitude not as villainous but as that of a deeply wounded person. Because we recognize this, we want him to heal.

CAST AWAY's hero is a different character. His flaw is essentially being a "workaholic". Workaholism is pervasive in modern culture, and it's not like he's a workaholic gangster or some other profession that is a real stretch for the average viewer to relate to. Instead, Chuck is a normal, hard-working American. All we need to know is that he works excessively hard, and how that lifestyle impacts the rest of his life, that's all.

And for 50 million viewers, that was enough.


The points you offer towards the end of your last comment -- your proposal that the act two material be made into "backstory" -- are the story you think you see, not the one that is there. This is a story about a man too busy to appreciate the life he has, who is suddenly stranded on a desert island and forced to survive with the knowledge that he may never see them again. The "story questions" you raise are fine questions -- but not for this story. If those are questions that drive YOU and YOUR sense of story, then be a storyteller, and TELL IT. It's not for us to tell another storyteller that their story wasn't the "right" story, only that they did or did not succeed in telling the story they wanted to tell (or, as is more often the case, that to succeed they have to want to tell a story in the first place).

Is CAST AWAY as good as the all-time greats? I don't know, maybe not. But if it warrants the comparison in the average viewer’s mind -- HOUSE BUNNYs not withstanding – and the minds of people far more skilled than you or I, then we probably owe it more than a cursory dismissal.

You may disagree entirely with the interpretation of the facts, you may just decide this film simply isn't for you, or you may just ignore me completely. But before you do any of that, I highly recommend you read the script (Google is your friend) and take one last look.

I hope this helps or, short of that, at least kicks the hornet's nest.

Best, Erik LeDrew

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Reason for Horror (and why it's so bad lately)

Aliens' final shot: Ripley and Newt can dream again

NOTE: the following was originally written as a response to a friend's blog. But considering how infrequently I blog here, I decided to capitalize on my splurg. There has been some editing for clarification.

As a former-and-sometimes-still horror and SF movie fanatic, I no longer find the perverse pleasure in grueling movies and books to the extent that I used to. I will cop to once in a while watching a bloody-as-fuck B-movie and getting kicks out of it, but for the most part, I demand my horror to be purpose-driven.

Horror is essentially a descent into hell, in the classical sense. Whether the story is "The Descent" or "Black Swan", they're horrific "descents" of one kind or another.

The thing of it is, 99% of horror movies, including those two, only stole the superficial aspects of the classical Descent into the Land of the Dead. They didn't steal the purpose a Land of the Dead serves in a story. It is this missing purpose that makes those old stories tick, and it's why many of us have crawled to the bottom of that genre's barrel, and ultimately find it so lacking.

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero travels to the underworld to find his dead friend Enkidu. Once there, he meets Enkidu but cannot bring him back. Instead, Gilgamesh is given great wisdom (read the epic yourself to see what wisdom, exactly). He brings this wisdom back and shares it with his people. This is the purpose of the Land of the Dead. Classically, the dead always possess greater wisdom than the living, so if we are to go there, we go there only for wisdom. No one goes to hell because it's fun. You endure that hardship to find something to bring back with you. You cannot return from the Land of the Dead without wisdom. The struggle to enter and exit the Land of the Dead is so great that you will gain wisdom simply through attrition. And once gained, is your responsibility to share it with the living. To gain but not to share this wisdom is selfish.

To think of it another way, when life sucks we frequently call it "meaningless" or "futile" -- we're trying to find the wisdom in our own Descent and have yet to find it. Some people spend their entire lives searching for that wisdom. And many of them return to share it, once found, whether through movies, books, short stories, or Alcoholics Anonymous.

But when fictions like a Saw or a Black Swan or even, yes, a Hurt Locker ("war is hell", right?), take us to the Land of the Dead, the unspoken contract for enduring that experiential pain is that we will in return be given great wisdom. But none of these movies fulfill their end of the contract. Even listen to how most of their makers' talk about them -- it's always "I wanted to put the audience through X" or "I love fucking with people". Where do you think these expressions come from? Not from nowhere. To be taken to hell and not given wisdom is to "be fucked with".

There are really only five horror films of any kind that truly try to fulfill this contract: "Aliens", "The Exorcist", "Poltergeist", "Rosemary's Baby", and "The Thing".

"Aliens" takes us to hell in order to show us how we can conquer our deepest, darkest fears. This is not meta-text. It is right there on the screen for everyone to see. The movie opens with the hero having a nightmare. She tries hard not to return to their source (the Land of the Dead). And when she does, it is because she literally can't sleep. Once in the Land of the Dead, she finds a Jungian Innocent in need of protection. The hero now has cause to conquer her fear, beyond her own well-being. The hero and innocent even bond over how their nightmares have come true. When the hero finally faces her fears to rescue the innocent, she literally descends through flame straight into the heart of the story's Land of the Dead. And the final dialogue exchange of the film is from the Innocent: "Can I dream again?" The hero answers, "I think we both can." Shot of them sleeping peacefully. Boom -- done. Through facing her fears, she defeats them and inspires others to do the same.

Many people have had nightmares because of "Aliens", but not a single person is disgusted by it the way so many are by "Saw" or "Hostel". No one feels guilty or corrupted for having sat through it.

"The Exorcist" offers an even more punishing experience, but it still provides wisdom and catharsis such that by the end of it, you're exhausted, but you're not sickened. And remember, this is a movie in which a 9-year-old girl masturbates with a crucifix. We're not sickos, so rough as it is, how does that not leave us feeling ill and dirty? Because on an emotional level, we understand that we've gained something from experiencing it. And this isn't a religious "God exists" kind of wisdom. In fact, for all the evidence the film gives us, "God" may never have existed to begin with in this story's world. All the good, positive action in "The Exorcist" is carried out by simple people, struggling to overcome their faults in order to defeat this ultimate evil. "God" gives them no strength except that which they already possess. Their strength always comes from within, out of love of a child or compassion for suffering. For all "The Exocist" 's supernatural aspects, the film is a completely humanist experience. It takes us to the very depths of hell and brings us back to the Land of the Living, wisdom in hand. Wisdom we can use here, whether there's an afterlife or not.

The other three of those five films I've mentioned don't come as close to fulfilling their contracts as "Aliens" or "The Exorcist", but of them "Poltergeist" probably comes the closest. It's wisdom doesn't have the depth or density the other two provide, but it doesn't take you as deep into hell as them either, so its wisdom is still more or less proportional. "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Thing" offer regressively smaller glimpses of wisdom. But considering that wisdom is something literally nothing else even tries for anymore, that's still saying something.

"We will endure pain in exchange for reward" is a contract between producer and consumer that is thousands of years old. But when pain becomes the reward, as in movies other than those five, the story/experience is corrupt and malicious. As a society, we give tacit approval of mild S&M behind closed doors, but no one would say a person who likes having their flesh flayed for no other reason than the experience itself, is a well-adjusted person. And we certainly wouldn't appreciate being exposed to it in public.

Pain is not a reward. The further into the Land of the Dead, the greater the wisdom must be. This is how it has been and must always be.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Daily Productivity Blog #11

Today, I took the following actions in pursuits of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) I worked on the edit for my friend-colleague's theatrical project. I didn't accomplish as much as I ought to have, but some is better than none.

2) My co-writer and I put in three hours' work on our feature, after being stalled on the inelegant but apparently unavoidable structure of our film's teaser. I went into idiot-savant mode and tore through our third act, looking for anything and everything that might require any kind of connective tissue in the first act. My co-writer classified my savant-isms and then we went to work analyzing them. This enabled us to do some wonderful refining to the connecting points in our 1st and 3rd acts -- which is a milestone of sorts, being at the stage we can definitively state that we're refining our outline. Of course, our second act has an enormous amount of work that needs to be done to it directly, but because so many of our refinements are about alleviating the burden on our 2nd act, our 1st/3rd act work actually sometimes doubles as indirect 2nd act work as well.

3) And I watched THE QUIET MAN, which is a phenomenal film. But I am conflicted over how Ford deals with the boxing back-story, primarily because it seems to me we should be understanding why Thornton won't fight for his wife so that we can feel his internal conflict as it reaches its boiling point. Instead, we're left on the outside for the better part of the film, observing a man who seems frustrated and conflicted, but being unable to connect with why he feels this way. Ultimately, it makes Thornton look like a cipher at best, an unsympathetic coward at worst -- until, that is, we're given his backstory. It just doesn't make any narrative logic, given Ford's storytelling preferences and presumed intentions, that he would deliberately make this film 1/2 observational "character study", 1/2 passionate romance. I don't want to kill one of my heroes, but I do think this may be a mistake. If nothing else, I think it's telling that the backstory has to be revealed on the back of the box in order to sell the film's story coherently. It's no SEARCHERS or STAGECOACH, but it's still a good film.

4) The making-of also gave me what is likely the best, simplest acting lesson I've ever been given: "[Maureen O'Hara] looks me in the eyes... [and] makes me act by making me react." -- John Wayne

Hasta manana.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Daily Productivity Blog #10

It is so much easier to do this regularly when I'm working a regular schedule.

I've accomplished much since I last wrote in here -- so much that I'm not even sure what I've already mentioned or not.

To catch things up, I'll mention the following:

1) I cut my short film to pieces and stitched it back together. It's now a lean, mean motherfucker. It still has some residual issues, but the key is that I cut out 1/4 of the material and it still works. from 25minutes down to 17 -- and it makes sense that it works at 17, because the script was 17 pages. Who knew?

2) My co-writer and I have continued our trend of radical albeit essential revisions to our feature. It goes well. Today we re-visited our teaser and I'm quite happy with it now. It's not locked yet, but it's a step-and-a-half in the right direction.

3) NEMO is truly brilliant. The more I study it's construction, the in awe of it I am. Say what you will about it's family-friendly-ness, but it's made by some incredibly smart, skilled, and talented people, working at the top of their form to tell a story they felt in their bones. May I strive for a story so well-constructed, anthropomorphism or no.

4) I revisited POLTERGEIST yesterday and that was an eye-opening experience. My god, I hadn't seen the film in at least ten years and it's incredible how it holds up. Hooper drops the ball in the finale with the real estate boss and considering that was the only portion of filming Spielberg wasn't present for, I guess I'm not surprised. POLTERGEIST is nothing like any of the Tobe Hooper films I've seen, and is clearly a through-and-through Spielbergian effort. I can't believe that man was ghost-directing (pardon the pun) POLTERGEIST at the same time he was working on E.T. That's incredible. I also had an epiphany about Spielberg's visual sensibility, but I've neither properly digested said epiphany yet, nor would I be up for regurgitating it if I had.

Night, all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A lesson in humility

"The humble improve" -- Wynton Marselis

Not wasting time by learning from less than the best is common sense, but the temptation is always there to lower your standards, or see if you can see what other people see in pieces of shit -- such as my recent [redacted] revisit.

I have to admit, in this flawed spirit, I recently watched what I'd always assumed was a bad '80s B-horror film. I had never seen this film, however. Well, I watched and it is in the final summation a bad 80s horror film. The story is garbage, the performances not particularly good. But -- the visual storytelling, while not great, was still pretty impressive considering the kind of movie this was for. While watching this above-par-for-its-ambitions movie, I found myself realizing that I likely could not tell a story that well. For all the credit I sometimes give myself, I couldn't do better than a bad 80s horror film. This was humbling. What was more humbling was that I immediately looked up the director's filmography thinking, "Surely, this guy must've moved on to something because he at least shows promise, if not mastery here." His IMDB page was empty. There or four DTV flicks, a low-rent reality TV show. Then nothing.

If this guy who directed what must've been received as surprisingly solid when it came out in 1987, couldn't make a career out of it -- then what does that say about me, who probably couldn't do that well at this point in time?

Now, it's possible there are a hundred and one reasons why the guy went nowhere -- addiction, trauma, disinterest -- but the thought was still humbling. It reminded me that making a decent film is not enough. You have to make the best possible film you can -- and even then, continue to better yourself.

It made me realize how rare a Duel or a Terminator are straight out of the gate. Either of which I'll be lucky to make at any point in my career.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Daily Productivity Blog #9

The weekend.

Saturday I took the following actions in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) My co-writer and I put in hours on our feature. Definite progress.

2) I edited my short film, cutting together the final scene that was lost when FCP crashed a few posts ago. It's better now. Much. I'm glad I got a "re-do".

Sunday I took the following actions in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) My co-writer and I put in three hours on our feature. We have locked the 'Kansas" component of our first act. And worked out the entire arch of the mentor's supporting plot. We are ready to begin "Oz" Tuesday (Monday being Valentine's, we won't be working. But not because he has a date, poor bastard. I'm the married one.)

2) I spent ten hours editing my short film. I made some very savage cuts to the thing. The good news is it's now structurally sound. Act breaks all fall at the points in time where they should. The mini-epiphany I got out of this, however, is that not every scene can be approached as a complete film. That's good in theory, but then you work your way into the scene the same way you work your way into the film. Entire films and maybe even individual acts can suffer a gentle opening, a gradual easing into the piece, but scenes cannot. The majority of my cutting was removing these elegant albeit time-consuming entrances.. It's possible I've taken out too much though. We'll see in the AM. The version in question is 17 minues, 41 seconds long. If brevity is truly the soul of wit, then it should unquestionably be better than the 25 minute version.

3) Daily story study: I will read a fable.

4) Daily visual storytelling study:
I will study Rockwell.

5) Daily discipline:
see above.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Daily Productivity Blog #8

An Incredible family dinner. The extraordinary in the context of the mundane.

Today I took the following actions in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) I worked cutting / post-ing video.

2) I met with one of my mentor's for a quick chat which turned into an epic talk (as they always tend to do). Lesson of the evening: " 'Incongruity' is a powerful took. Making the sweet looking be mean, or the powerful-looking be meek can be either funny or scary, depending on execution. But it almost always works as a way to engage people." [Paraphrased] Brad Bird used this as his guiding principle in THE INCREDIBLES: every amazing thing is grounded in something ordinary, every ordinary thing is grounded in something amazing. What incongruity does is give you immediate contrast, as immediate as contrast within a single character. This contrast gives you a stick by which to measure the extraordinary, it provides context. Incongruity is simultaneous context.

3) I watched THE CRAZIES again and confirmed that it is, in fact, pretty damn okay. Outer boundaries, connective tissue, and visual storytelling -- it's refreshing to see some actual craft put to work. Imperfect, but entertaining and competently crafted.

4) I watched MASTER & COMMANDER, the far superior high-seas adventure film and the true best picture of 2003. Its script-writing isn't as focused as it could be, but the "lesser of two weevils" lesson is pretty well elucidated through the key events of the film. The surface writing is sharp, the acting exceptional, the visual storytelling gorgeous. Possibly the most unfortunate franchise non-starter of the last decade. Besides M&C, there's really only PIXAR, Ken Burns, and THE KING OF KONG to remind us that anything even happened those ten years.

5) I fell asleep. And woke back up to blog. (Okay, not really. My wife needed to be picked up from work. I have simply used this as a second chance to blog tonight).

6) I walked a mile to meet my mentor, and then back to work to check on a render, then 3.5 miles home. That's 5.5 miles. Not bad.

7) Daily story study: I will read a fable.

8) Daily visual storytelling study: I will study Rockwell.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Daily Productivity Blog #7

This one's going to be short: no grand epiphanies. That and I'm fading fast.

Today I took the following actions in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) I worked a six-hour shift editing video.

2) I saw BLACK SWAN with my family. Moving on...

3) I put in two hours' work with my co-writer on our feature, even though we were/are both frazzled at the end of a long week. We did not have any revelatory break-throughs, but we did make incremental and definitive progress: we worked out the first real sequence of the body of the film. It's not half-bad, and definitely better than our previous notion of how we'd begin. Believe me, we're doing our damnedest not to bore you folks.

4) Daily visual storytelling study: I'll study some Rockwell.

5) Daily storytelling study: I'll read a fable.

6) Daily discipline: I wrote a blog.

'Night, all.

Daily Productivity Blog #6

Today I took the following actions in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) I worked all day.

2) I walked three miles from work to my edit bay.

3) I took a still frame of what I would consider to be the anchor image in each scene of my short film. I arranged them in Photoshop and created what is in effect a comic book out of them. I shuffled them around. I cut scenes. I arranged them in chronological order, reverse chronological order, hyper-anachronological order. You get the picture. I may have found a structure that works. It works on paper at least. But after working into the wee hours of the morning when I have to get up and put in a few hours at work tomorrow, I actually feel rather dissatisfied. I completely re-cut the film's sex scene and I'm not sure I like it. At all. But my time had run out if I'm to get any sleep tonight and so I left the new verson of the film compressing with a bitter taste in my mouth... (cont'd at bottom)

4) I'm going to study Rockwell if it's only a fleck of paint.

5) I'm going to read a fable.
(cont'd) I'm going to go brush my teeth now.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Daily Productivity Blog #5

Chess legend Bobby Fischer

Day 5 in a row (mostly). How long does it take to form a habit?

Today I took the following actions in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) I returned two prop guns to the man who was kind enough to lend them to my short film. Way overdue, but better late than never. Because he's such a boss gentleman, I'll give him a shout-out here: Shawn Anderson, a true G&E mensch. Seek him out if you're looking for a gaffer/key grip in the Seattle area. He has a grip truck at reasonable rates.

2) My co-writer and I finally managed to cram in a few hours' long overdue work on our feature script and we managed to accomplish quite a bit. It's really kind of amazing how much shit you can get done when you implement a deadline, however vague, to put a sense of urgency in your work. We made some significant structural changes tonight, locked others in solid, and discovered the nature of the four primary relationships in our film. This discovery necessitated us first admitting that one particular character was a cipher, and not in a good way. Once admitted, everything pretty much locked into place almost instantly. We had to talk it out, but it was amazing how clear the relationships became once we copped to a problem.

3) I watched about a 1/2 hour of John Ford's THE QUIET MAN, and until the later script work was done, I didn't expect anything to rival the revelation that came from watching that movie. I had no idea, til now, that the scene Elliot mirrors in E.T. when he lets all the frogs go, is the beautiful and bold first kiss between John Wayne and Scarlett O'Hara. Once it came up, it was an instant, gut recall: I immediately saw the scene playing on the TV that ET's watching, and Elliot reenacting it. What's truly miraculous about this remembrance is that I haven't seen E.T. in maybe a decade (an error I aim to soon correct). A recall so instantaneously of a film last seen so long ago is a two-fold testament to the iconic power with which Ford staged and filmed the scene in THE QUIET MAN, as well as to the emotional homage Spielberg staged for E.T. It's no Tarantino/Rodriguez ape-ing, it's an honest-to-god rearticulation of that scene for his movie's own emotional purpose. That's how you pay respect. May I have the skill, fortune and sense to do the same, should I ever require an homage. By the way, Republic Pictures' transfer on their QUIET MAN "Special Edition" DVD is easily the worst I've ever seen. Handheld bootlegs re-scans of ALIENS VS PREDATOR in Iraq had better color fidelity and sharper focus. Get on it Criterion!

4) As I was leaving my old edit room tonight, after the 2 hours of story-breaking, I had a sort of revelation about the script-to-production ratio. I was thinking about how my co-writer and I have been working on our story in various forms since the end of July 2010, minus two months we took off so I could focus on reshoots for my short film. Still, with the schedule we've mapped-out for the remainder of our scripting process, by the end we will have put over 15 months of work into the script (at an average of 15 hours' work per week). Surely, this time-span would be comparable to any actual production of the film, from prep- through post-. So let's say that the script-to-production ratio of this film -- should we be so lucky -- is 1 : 1. I then compared this to what the going ratio is on my short film, which will probably end up somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 : 20. There are so many problems I'm having to fix with reshoots and clever editing, that could have easily been fixed at the script stage. Now, I'd like to mention that the first iteration of that short film was my graduating thesis project and I was on an incredibly tight deadline in an academic environment that was at times unsupportive of narrative filmmaking, at others out-right disdainful. And I will also say that the long editing and reshoots process has been extremely educational for me, especially with respect my evolving appreciation of the malleability of visual storytelling. All that said, DESERTERS will be good, but it will be a much costlier and harder-fought "good" than had I taken the time to get the script right. This is not a regret, so much as a cost/benefit analysis. I also think this is true of CAVITY, the last feature script I wrote. If we consider the drafting of it as the actual "production" of the script, and the outlining as the "writing", then that process was probably more like 1 : 100. Had I spent at least half as much time "writing" CAVITY, I wouldn't have to do so much narrative tapdancing and "reshooting". The lesson here is one of the oldest: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevent Piss-Poor Performance. CAVITY is 200 pages long and took me a week of outling and three months to script. On my current script, my co-writer and I have been working eight months on our outline, and don't plan to type a page of script until sometime in late summer/early fall. It will be between 100 and 110 pages. Lesson-learned, bitch.

5) I wrote a blog.

6) I will read a fable.

7) I will study Rockwell.

8) I will go to bed by 12:30.

Rock 'n' roll.

Daily Productivity Blog #4

A flawless scene. Still from John Ford's Stagecoach.

Today I took the following actions in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) I worked all day. Getting paid to cut & assemble video still carries a luster even though my work for them is going on four weeks.

2) I stayed late at work. I'm giving this it's own number, because staying late is its own achievement.

3) I applied to a second job for editing. Fingers crossed.

4) Though tonight was a work night for our script, my co-writer and I were buggered by a sudden domestic problem I had to take care of and so were unable to devote much time to our script. However, we still managed to talk over a connective tissue issue (say that five times fast) involving our villain and hero's final exchange and how to best illustrate their mirrored qualities: paths not taken, regrets, an apology too late, etc. My references for this were to the "Southern Gentleman" in STAGECOACH and Amon Goethe in SCHINDLER'S LIST (which has been our chief reference for the villain all along, in addition to Archibald Cunningham from ROB ROY). Matt brought up the end of KOTOR -- a game I've never played, despite being a huge BioWare fan due to MASS EFFECT -- and it seems to be perfect reference. As he describes it, it's an even better emotional articulation of the idea than what is done in STAGECOACH. There the idea, while sound, is truthfully one of that gargantuan film's very few shortcomings. But it still sorta works. Our particular notion of implementing that idea is solid, it just needs finessing. Suffice to say, if we can make you cry when Hero and Obstacle exchange their final words, then our job will have been done very well indeed.

5) I walked (most of the way) home from work.

6) I studied Rockwell.

7) I will read a fable.

8) I am calling it a night as early as possible.
Good night, world.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Daily Productivity Blog #3

I failed to blog last evening, so I'll just consider this one a "weekend blog".


1) I worked for 5 hours with my co-writer on our feature script. We met our goal for the session: resolve the Outer Boundaries / Teaser issue helped in part by reading Finding Nemo's script earlier in the week.

2) I met my former neighbor for a few beers and talked movies for two hours. It was a true discussion, not just chit-chat.


3) I had a two-hour meeting with my short film's sound designer/composer to get the post- ball rolling.

4) Unfortunately, my second action taken Sunday in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft was an attempt to deal with and overcome failure. Final Cut crashed on an edit, corrupting the file, and the auto-save vault had been inactive for the past two weeks. I lost a considerable amount of work because I wasn't adequately backing-up my files. So after a few good swings at a duffel bag, I settled in to re-cut a few of DESERTERS' scenes that were lost. It took me the rest of the day to do, but re-examining scenes I'd put to bed gave me an opportunity to play with some restructuring and to fine-tuning. There is one last "lost scene" that I didn't get to due to time, but it's the largest of the remaining ones and will have to wait until later in the week.

5) I'm watching A BUG'S LIFE and I can't believe I ever thought that ANTZ was a pimple on this film's phenomenal ass. The visual storytelling is clear, simple, and effective, and the drama is pretty good too. Considering Seven Samurai's story archetype has been an epic samurai action film, a badass Western, and a children's animated film, stories truly are in the telling. Most interesting about watching this is noticing how they've interpreted and diverged from the original material -- it's the same story, only not.

6) I will study a Rockwell.

7) I will read a fable.

8) And I will rack-out soon.

'Til tomorrow, signing off.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Daily Productivity Post #2

Image by Jack Kirby

Today I took the following actions in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) I worked a full day's worth of work. Video editing is not a bad way to earn a living, even if the hours are erratic.

2) I walked 3 miles to a meeting.

3) Said meeting was to catch-up and return favors to a friend and colleague who is in need of video edit mojo.

4) I promised to cut said friend/colleague a 30-second trailer of a past-production in order to to help win grant money to revisit it. I cut a 45-second trailer from her 55-minute show and it's pretty okay. Hope it gets the job done.

5) I had a very long and enriching conversation with my writing partner on why our ability to re-shape the world through our stories is a good and important thing. In short, there are two kinds of important stories, each kind every bit as necessary as the other: Cautionary Tales, i.e. "don't do this bad thing or this other bad thing will reult"; and what he and I called Aspirational Tales, i.e. "strive to live up to this good thing and just maybe this other good thing will result." After we both had a long, rough, stressful week, Aspirational Stories really seemed to be on our minds during this discussion. I may blog more later about this.

6) I had a long and (mostly) respectful argument with my former neighbor on Facebook about the state of modern film, and the movie producer-consumer relationship. I had a good analogy that I'll reprint here:

The onus should always be on the producer to deliver a quality product, not on the consumer to determine or define or contribute to its quality. It is the craftsman, the artisan who does the work so that the product can be appreciated and of service to the consumer for the money they paid.

A truly well-made chair does not require "some assembly", it comes fully formed: beautifully rendered, structurally sound, and lest we forget -- resplendently comfortable.

In this same way a good movie must arrive fully formed: beautifully lit and composed, structurally sound in both plot and image assembly, and ultimately comfortable to the audience. And don't confuse "comfortable" with "comfort food". Perapetia is comfort -- Oedipus, Hamlet, and The Godfather are comfortable because they generate catharsis through their release of dramatic tension.

These three different stories are products, fully-formed on delivery.

7) I studied some Norman Rockwell.

8) I read a fable.

9) I wrote a blog. Say it with me: Recursion's a bitch.

And done.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

NEW RULE: Daily Post #1

I've decided that, since this blog is going on FIVE YEARS OLD, I'll probably continue to futz around with it indefinitely so, what the hell, I may as well embrace it. Even if I don't really like the idea of being a "blogger", a label I just yesterday remarked to my co-writer as referring to "old codgers with nothing to say". Prejudice against their kind aside, depending on my mood I either have too many better and more important things to do than blog, or am too lazy. Probably a bit of both, with a dash of simply-not-having-anything-to-say.

But here's the rub: from now forward, I will post here each day, and each day I have nothing to say or am too lazy to say it, I will at least write a few short words on what I've done this day to move me closer to mastery of "the cinematic storyteller's craft" -- a phrase which, if the masthead at the top of my blog didn't give away already, is my motus operandi and shall henceforth and herewith etc. be used a shit-lot.

If it's phrasing bothers you, I suggest ending your readership here.

On with it:

Today I took the following actions in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft:

1) I read 70 pages of FINDING NEMO's 140-page(!) script...and thanks to this, have very likely solved the first act "Outer Boundaries"/character context issue my co-writer and I have been dancing around for months now.

2) I worked a full day's work. Surprising, I know, but what's especially great about this is that I actually got paid to further my pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft -- in other words, I got paid to edit "some video". Still, pretty sweet. Bonus: lots of opportunities to practice Hitchcock's "Image Size" principle.

3) I walked the 3.5 miles from work to my apartment, partly to save money, partly because it was a nice damn night, and partly because my chairborne ass needed to move. Being "fit" is also what I would consider part of the "cinematic storyteller's craft".

4) I spent a few minutes discussing Finding Nemo and the O.B. issue with my co-writer even though he's sick, I'm exhausted, and it's a Thursday, which aren't big writing days for us. A few minutes, however briefly, are better than none.

5) I finished reading a draft of Mentor A's (I have two wonderful mentors! -- one of my precious few fortunes) third, forth-coming book on storytelling.

6) I'm going to bed before midnight!* A regular, healthy sleep-schedule, while inconvenient and probably rarely ever practiced, must still be aspired to.

7) I read a fable.

8) I wrote a blog. Recursion's a bitch.


I guess that's all, but eight concrete actions taken in pursuit of the cinematic storyteller's craft -- should I just capitalize this and get it over with? -- is pretty damn good for a day I'd kind of written-off as a productivity-loss. And that is exactly why I've decided on this daily "productivity blog": in case it's not obvious, I'm not doing this for you. You'll hopefully enjoy the result of my labors, but this? This "daily blog" is for me.

*Note: in taking the time to proof-read this post, it is now 35-minutes past midnight.

**Final thought: should I be so candid? WWJD? That's "What Would John (Ford) Do?" or alternately, "What Would James (Cameron) Do?". I certainly couldn't imagine sonuvabitch John Ford sitting around, publicly patting himself on the back for reading a few pages of a script.

So in the spirit of Mr. Ford and in honor of yesterday being his 115th birthday, I'll offer an alternate blog:

Fuck it.