Summer Slowdown

July 31, 2008

No, I haven’t forgotten about The Challenge. Since my son’s school year ended, there has been no semblance of any routine (swimming lessons for 2 weeks here, a different summer school for 4 weeks there…) – and it’s hard to write when you’re the shuttle driver. But there’s good news: we’ve slipped into a semi-routine and I’ve carved out some time for most weekdays, even getting a few pages written this past Tuesday afternoon. Psycho Ex is up to 71 pages now with Dead Guy at 66.

The bad news is that this semi-routine will only last for another few days, until we fly to Texas for a week vacation. If things go as I hope during the second half of August, I may be able to get a LOT more done those last two weeks – this is when I hope to really get up to a sprint. This will be my best shot at a continuous writing window for the rest of 2008.

And I’ll need it – after initially being concerned that these two ideas were too slim to expand into feature screenplays, I’ve been having the opposite problem. At 71 and 66 pages in, I am nowhere near the midpoints of each story. I think this has a lot to do with the piecemeal process of the writing of these scripts (which has been VERY different from the process I’ve used on every other script), but we’ll see. As I have suspected for a while, it is looking like these will be the longest and loosest and roughest first drafts I’ve ever written. This is very different from my usual style, as my first drafts are usually pretty close to my final versions, mostly needing only trimming and focusing within existing scenes. This time there will likely be radical revisions of structure and combining/deleting of several scenes. August, here we come.

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From “Aftershocks” to aftershocks

July 29, 2008

Yes, I felt the earthquake today. No, I don’t have any clever tie-in to my script. Too bad the script hasn’t gone out yet to production companies – that could have been an interesting (morbid? cynical?) marketing coup for me.

The earthquake was the biggest one I’ve felt yet, and our first with the house. A broken picture frame and a couple of new cracks in the house (maybe – it’s hard to remember if a crack was there before or not, or if it got any worse), but that was it. We’re all fine.

Aftershocks, anyone?


Random Question #33

July 25, 2008

Did the thought process/territory/implications of Random Question #32 make you uncomfortable?


Wall-E and the (Non)Intuitive Second Act

July 23, 2008

I’m a big fan of animation, technology, and especially of great storytelling. So obviously I’m a huge fan of Pixar. Pixar’s stories feel “primal.” They feel like they weren’t written at all, like they just magically emerged in one piece. Organic. Nothing was “tacked on” later, nothing was picked over by a committee, these stories were just… there. Complete. You have the characters, you have the conflict, and from there the story seems to go the only possible way it ever could have gone. Simple as that. These guys work hard to make it look so easy.

I’ve read a lot of bedtime stories over the last 8 years and a big thing I’ve learned about kids’ stories – and stories in general – is that these kinds of “primal” stories make the deepest and strongest connections to us. Kids tune out when a story gets too convoluted for its own good – and guess what? Adults do too. I enjoy complicated stories and “puzzle movies,” but these are different. These “intellectual” stories can be great and rewarding, but they don’t have the same emotional connection – or power – that primal stories do. Give us a character we care about. Put him in conflict so that we instinctively know what will happen – what HAS TO happen. For my money, that’s what the goal of structure is – making the viewer intuitively aware of what HAS TO happen for the story to resolve itself, for the character to get to where he belongs. If the writer can communicate that intuition, he has made a deep connection and has a huge head start with everything else. There is a bullet train headed straight for the climax and we are all driving it. We recognize the ride instinctively even though we have never taken it before. There will be surprises along the way, but these delight us because they still “feel right,” they feel integral to the whole. This “making us intuitively know” is the territory of these primal stories. This is my idea of The Line which I have discussed before. This is “classic” territory. This is Pixar territory.

Wall-E gives us a surprisingly endearing character with a heartbreakingly graceful conflict, masterfully communicated. The comparisons to Chaplin are not a stretch. There are moments of purely visual and emotional beauty in this film which are startling in their power. We have the character and his conflict, and when Wall-E grabs on to Eve’s spaceship and blasts off for adventure and his destiny, the emotional connection is perfect.

But then there is the second act.

Some have complained about the social commentary that comes from the events of the second act. What bothered me was how these events felt so… disconnected from the first act. Some of this is unavoidable – we are in a different world now, literally. We have to go out and find out what external force has “turned Eve off” so we can fix it and live happily ever after. And the events of the second act do just this. But the movie became cluttered with characters and events that felt unrelated. It felt the opposite of intuitive: it felt arbitrary. The M-O robot was funny and my kids laughed at the “island of misfit toys” robots, but it felt merely like one of an infinite number of ways the story could have gone. These didn’t feel like pleasant surprises or discoveries along the ride, they didn’t seem intuitively familiar, they felt like stalling tactics – characters I didn’t care about doing busy, random things that didn’t seem to matter while Wall-E faded into the background.

There are (repeated) moments in the second act where Wall-E sees the re-awakened Eve and simply wants to hold her hand and let the happy ending begin. But she has to keep him quiet while she takes care of the plant in the boot because the movie isn’t over yet, there is a bigger problem to be solved. Wall-E doesn’t follow this bigger story, he doesn’t care about the plant or the humans or the future of mankind, he just wants Eve. He’s just focused on the story about the little robot who fell in love. Him and me both. You know, the story from the first act. The story that is not about the future of mankind, or about humans learning their lesson, but actually about Wall-E.

And why are the humans the ones learning a lesson anyway? They’re not the protagonists of this story. And then there is the whole issue of the double ending, where the movie is over but Wall-E has to break down again so his story – the real story – can have a climax…

Let me be clear: I liked the movie. It is miles above Kung Fu Panda (which we also took the kids to see) and the work of the other animation studios out there. The first act is breathtaking. Really. The visuals and animation are Pixar’s best yet – except for the humans the entire universe is rendered in a live-action reality that is utterly amazing. But then it gets too convoluted for its own good, and I emotionally tuned out. It becomes more “intellectual” than “primal,” unlike the Pixar classics. It’s a good movie, but it just doesn’t live up to its (pure? perfect?) first act.

Yes, that first act sure felt perfect. Perhaps it was – perhaps it was too good because it was so complete and intimate and insular… and therefore inadvertently gave us nowhere specific to go, nowhere inevitable the story HAD TO go. Maybe any external complications would have felt forced or arbitrary. Maybe it was a perfect short film that they padded into a feature-length story. Or maybe the movie’s perfect second act is still out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered whole, complete, to magically emerge. Maybe. But if Wall-E has a primal, intuitive, perfect second act (like Toy Story 2 or Ratatouille or even, yes, Cars), I haven’t seen it.


Random Question #32

July 17, 2008

If your partner decided s/he wanted to look up an old ex and restart a platonic friendship, how would you respond to your partner?


Random Question #31

July 11, 2008

Do you have a secret?


Weekend Progress

July 7, 2008

Aftershocks – I did indeed finish the rewrite on Tuesday night, then gave the rewrite to 7 or 8 friends on Wednesday. Quick feedback from the first 2 was positive. Pleased with myself, I took the long weekend off. Then today I emailed it off to the script’s new representation for their notes. We’ll see what they think.

Supervillain – I tossed around a few replacement titles all weekend and ran them by a few friends. Everybody’s a critic. I narrowed those down to 5 lucky finalists (I thought I could decide on 1 but no go) and emailed those to Supervillain’s producers. I think I’m in good shape – I thought they were pretty good and I can live with pretty much any of them. Suggestions are still welcome…

Hancock – helped me out (I think). Good numbers. Now we have to take advantage!

Wall-E – saw it on Friday with the wife and kids. I am a huge Pixar fan and I was not disappointed. That said, I think the claims of “Best Picture” contender are somewhat overstated. Best Animated Feature, sure, but Best Picture material? I liked it but there are a couple of Pixar features I’d rank it below. More discussion soon.