Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Heroes

While I frequently point out that I'm a fan few, I must confess to great admiration for Jamie Foxx. Although I loved him in Ray and could hardly take my eyes off of him in Dreamgirls, it was The Soloist that catapulted the star born Eric Marlon Bishop onto my win column and put him on my short list.

Still, the billboards, statue, motorcade and hoopla at Terrell's Tiger Stadium today, Jamie Foxx Day, leaves me a little cold. Texas Governor Rick Perry, Senator Bob Deuell, State Representative Betty Brown and the heads of both the Texas and Dallas film commissions are all there to mark the re-naming of Eric Marlon Bishop's hometown street as Jamie Foxx Way.

I like the Jamie Foxx way. I adore his devotion to the grandmother who raised him. I love his shameless acknowledgement of the role his home town played in his life and I'm oddly thankful for his credo, "My goals, my dreams, my values". It's proud but not prideful, secure but not self-important. It doesn't say "my way or the highway". It says "Don't let anyone or anything run your life. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't. Don't let anyone shame your dreams. And don't ever EVER think that you don't have value because of who you are or where you came from." That's what his credo says to me. Yes, I do like the Jame Foxx way.

But, he's one man and his story is still being written. Who knows what kind of man he'll be tomorrow. Will we point at him when he's 90 and say "he made us proud"? I hope so. But, time will tell.

Down the highway from all this Jamie Foxx fanaticism in Terrell, Texas, a precious child named Laurren Smith is grand marshall for a homecoming parade in Forney, Texas. She's scarcely able to sit up or even breath as tumors suffocate her windpipe and attack her heart. Two short years ago, she was an active cheerleader on the 4th-5th grade squad my sister coached. The shock to Laurren's friends and family was surreal when the truth about her leg pain was diagnosed. She didn't just land wrong in cheerleading practice. She had a very rare form of cancer.

Our small town has rallied around her and one news station has chronicled Laurren's brave battle, infectious joy of life, and fearless matter-of-fact attitude as she's gone to California and Mexico for new and experimental treatments. There have been welcome home parties, carnivals, and fund raisers and now, Forney, Texas, will hold Christmas in October because Laurren won't live past December.

But five thousand people didn't line the streets for Laurren and the governor didn't stop by for a photo op. Laurren hasn't gotten the national or even local attention of a Jamie Foxx hometown celebration because there are so many heartbreaking Laurren Smith stories out there all over the state, the country, and the world that it's inevitable for one little girl's story to fade into the fabric of human suffering.

Two parades today. Eight miles apart. Two very different stories. Two very different heroes. Jamie, if you or any of your peeps are reading this, maybe you could stop by and shake Laurren Smith's unshakably courageous hand.

Mercy Me "Pray for Laurren" promo.
KXAS article on Laurren.
KXAS video on Laurren

Friday, September 25, 2009

Changing Themes Mid-Stream

While I'm not sure where the "don't change horses mid-stream" thing actually comes from, I'm relatively sure its source is not screenwriting.

I contend that it's okay to change themes in the middle of the writing process but not during the story telling process. You start with a theme and figure out you want to go somewhere else. So, you go back to the beginning and rework the story. Your theme is there from the beginning of your story to the end. If you introduce a secondary theme mid-story, it too has been set up from the beginning. So it's not really a CHANGE.

Stories, as we all know, are transitionary during the writing process.. wait. If we all know it, why do I feel compelled to mention it? I dislike stating what goes without saying almost as much as I dislike the contradictory nature of phrase "it goes without saying" since that which goes without saying is usually pointed out the moment we decide that it does, indeed, NOT need to be said.

And why do we even say "it does, indeed"? Isn't that redundant? Because if it does, it is already a fact. Said fact's existence is established. Indeed.

Moving on.

Stories, regardless of how well thought out they are, morph and blossom and wither and regenerate somewhere between inception and outline, again between outline and first draft, and then back and forth and, quite possibly, all over the place through subsequent drafts. We start out with a purpose - here's what I want to say and how I want to say it - but somewhere in the writing process we decide to amend that purpose.

Now let me ask you this... Okay, wait. There I go again. Stating what goes without saying because if I ask a question, is there really any need to inform a reader that I'm about to ask a question when they'll figure it out as soon as the question is asked?

Where was I?

Right. Theme.

Okay, so suppose your theme starts out as a Bruce Banner and somewhere mid-story it becomes the Incredible Hulk. Anger triggers Banner's change. What triggered your theme change? Something in the story caused such an overwhelming conflict in the theme that it became something else. Maybe now, it's grander than you intended. Maybe it's more thoughtful and subtle. Either way, the theme is now a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Are you really going to try to force the Bruce Banner-ish theme, mild but oh so endearing, to take on the role of the Incredible Hulk? Banner isn't Hulk. Only Hulk is Hulk. So which is it? A Banner theme or a Hulk theme. Your theme must be dealt with either way.

Anyone following my tangled thought process at all? It really was a well thought-out argument about changing themes until I sat at the keyboard and discovered how many empty things in the English language we say like "it goes with out saying" and "let me ask you this" and "I couldn't care less". That one really bugs me.. "I couldn't care less" indicates that you don't care at all which, if true, would not merit the mention of that which you don't care about.

Okay, so Bruce Banner isn't Hulk. I had a Banner theme. Now, it's a Hulk theme. What to do. Do I let my theme evolve as the story does or do I let the story evolve around one theme or the other? Why can't Banner and Hulk co-exist as themes in my story? Maybe they can but not as a single theme. If my theme mutates mid-story, aren't I writing two stories? Should I just use whichever theme fits, right? Any ol' port in the storm?

Just as this post is a strobe-light of helter skelter flashes of lucidity and stupidity and you, the reader, have had to pause to understand anything it says, I am suggesting that if we don't know the theme to our own stories, we don't really know what it says. If we don't know what our own screenplay says, how can we say it?

I started out this post writing about changing themes but then I realized how much I really want to write about all the meaningless phrases we use in speech and on paper. I should probably just pick one point or the other and go back and edit this post so the reader can follow it. But then, neither point would be made.

You can't retro-fit a theme.

Oh yeah. Plenty of writers have told me you can just start writing a story and figure out the theme later as it reveals itself to you. But I contend that is not possible. Here's why. Only these things can happen with theme during the writing process.

  1. You start out with a theme from the beginning and stick with it
  2. You start out writing one theme but the story evolves so you change the theme and go back to #1
  3. You start out with a theme and realize you need a secondary theme so you go back to #1 with both themes.
  4. You start out with no theme and figure it out along the way and then go back to #1

So, as you can see, it all goes back to number one. So there is actually no need for me to write numbers 2, 3, and 4 because they don't really exist. And there is actually no need to ever write "is actually" because if something "is", it is real and already "actual".

You know why you can't change horses mid-stream? Because you gotta take the horse you're on back to the bank to get the horse you're changing to. You started over at the beginning of the stream with a new horse. You didn't really change horses mid-stream at all. Of course, you could take a second horse along with you and get off one horse mid-stream and then mount the other one. But again, you didn't CHANGE horses mid-stream. You had both horses all along.

It goes without saying.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm still a Nazi Parent

I posted this a few years ago and was promptly bombarded with a mixed bag of mail. Many readers said that I'm naive. One said that I'm manipulative and controlling and will rue the day my sons break free of their 1950's upbringing and rebel in ways that will shock me. One reader even called me a Nazi parent. And, many warned me of a "rude awakening". So, three and a half years later, lets revisit this.

My sons are now 25, 20, and 15. Never been in jail. No drugs. No alcohol abuse. No totalled cars. We eat lunch as a family on Sunday afternoons where I catch up on the latest work, bowling, or girlfriend adventures and hear about the newest album from the latest band whose name I'll never remember. They make sure I know when to be there when the youngest one runs, the middle one plays soccer, and the oldest one wrestles.

Sure, there is a great divide in approaches to parenthood and yes, there are and always will be disappointments, arguments, and challenges. But rude awakening? I'm not sleepwalking.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Screenplay, Thy Name is Satire

My son's English teacher is making the class take a literary terms exam over and over until everyone in the room passes it. My kid passed. No matter. He still has to take the test again.

Unfair, says he.

Learning process, says I.

Sucks, says he.

That's life, says I.

Going to play Wii, says he.

After you study, says I.

Only missed two questions, says he.

Which ones, says I.

Satire and exposition, says he.

Define satire, says I.

A ridiculous word on a stupid test that a monkey could pass, says he.

Well done, says I. Go play Wii.

Point? I should learn more about writing satire. I should read more satiric screenplays.

Title suggestions?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Laborious Basterds

While I did see most of Inglorious Basterds, I actually dozed off during one of the multiple gab marathons. It exhausted me.

The German dialogue with English subtitles didn't bother me, Brad Pitt had some amusing stuff going on (and I even found myself wanting to see more of him), and the action sequences were there. But it's a Tarantno film. I expect overkill, not so much droning.

It was weird. I don't know if I like the film or not. Gonna have to see it again, methinks.