Saturday, June 29, 2013

'Nuff Said

Took this from Go Into the Story, the Black List blog:
"Write your screenplay.
Not because it is your dream.
Not because it will make you rich, famous, or powerful.
Not because there is a lack of (fill in the blank) genre stories.
Write your screenplay because you are YOU.
Write your screenplay because of what YOU bring to the table.
Write your screenplay because ONLY YOU can write it.
Everyone has a story only they can write and it would be a crime against humanity for you not to.
Write your screenplay."
Paul Quade

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tell Me No Lies

What does truth on the screen look like?

My mantra has long been, to paraphrase a line Billy Wilder wrote for Betty Schaefer in "Sunset Boulevard", that I think pictures should say something, not just sit there like an abstract piece of art waiting for individual interpretation. Oh sure, there is subjectivity and interpretation in everything we watch and read and a little mystery is a good thing but a film shouldn't leave us feeling like we're watching an old episode of Mark Goodson's "Match Game" where Gene Rayburn holds up a card and we've got to fill in a crucial element of the story.

You remember that show, right? Well, I do and it usually made me mad.  Gene Rayburn asks a question like "Dumb Dora is so dumb. She has been in Kindergarten so long, she's the only girl in class with  _______" and the OBVIOUS answer is boobs. Seriously, BOOBS. But do they say boobs? No. They say grandchildren, maternity dress and hysterectomy. You know what the matching answer turns out to be? Gray hair! WRONG. It's BOOBS, you morons! At which point, I threw my popsicle at the television and got yelled at later because when I was a kid televisions got really hot after they had been on for awhile and if you forgot to pick up your popsicle AND didn't dust behind the television like you were supposed to before you went swimming and then your step-father found cherry hairballs on the floor when he got home from work, you would get yelled at. And grounded from swimming which wasn't fair because my sister didn't fold the clothes either and guess who did NOT get grounded from anything because she was younger (18 months younger, big whoop) and I should help her and remind her to do her chores?

That, my friends, is truth. Stuff you can relate to - frustration, anger, making a mistake, feeling cheated, being justly punished, being unjustly punished, not being punished at all, feeling loss, abandoning responsibility, unfair expectations. People know what that's like. They can identify. Maybe they can empathize a little. They know who that kid is. Maybe they know that kid as an adult. Maybe they ARE that kid.

The "lack of truth" is any story that comes across like Dumb Dora. We're told she's dumb and still in Kindergarten. Who can identify or understand her in any way? We don't feel anything because we're left to our own devices to fill in the blanks. I'm not saying that we need every single answer. What happened to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"? Do we really know? Yes, we do and no, we don't. But we do know Butch and Sundance and not because we have robbed trains. We know them because we understand love and loss and grand dreams and not knowing how to swim and all the things about the film that make if feel "true".

The Black Board recently tweeted an old discussion where they quote Terry Rossio as saying:
"Call it truth, wisdom, insight, epiphany, revelation, or theme… truth always works up there on screen. It may never show up on a response card, but an audience hopes for the story to be ‘right,' for it to resonate within them, for it to be ‘about something.' The audience eats up truth whenever it's presented — truth about the human spirit, truth of the world, truth of a particular character, or the truth of an ideal. It's never overlooked; in fact, the audience is searching for it. And when they find it, it's the ultimate way for the audience to connect with a story."
Having presented to your my argument that truth on the screen is basically that which makes your story feel real, I also fully acknowledge that truth, much like love, is recognizable to all but defies explanation.

In his Wordplay article, Deep Thoughts, Terry Rossio also has this to say about truth:
It is nearly a universal quality of human beings to be able to recognize the Truth -- and that's Truth with a capital 'T' -- nearly always when it is presented to them. Yet it is a rare quality to be able to define the Truth, and to make those presentations.
So, basically, what I'm thinking here is that we better recognize when the truth is missing from what we have written because although readers may not be able to verbalize what exactly that big blank is they're feeling while they're reading our screenplays, something deep in their guts is telling them it should have been boobs instead of gray hair.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Now Playing in the Pons Region of Your Brain Stem

The internet was abuzz this week with grim predictions by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for the future of film. Basically, it sounds as if each new swollen-budgeted blockbuster is contributing to a sort of entertainment global warming that will one day result in changes to the whole magnetic force of the movie industry. We're in the ice age and a melt-down is coming.
"You're at the point right now where a studio would rather invest $250 million in one film for a real shot at the brass ring than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal -- and even maybe historical -- projects that may get lost in the shuffle because there's only 24 hours. There's going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even half a dozen of these mega-budgeted movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm again." Steven Spielberg
The cinema system as we know it would be transformed into a costly behemoth of an outing and in its place will rise on-demand television and internet films.
"You're going to end up with fewer theaters, bigger theaters with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies will cost $50 or $100 or $150, like what Broadway costs today, or a football game. It'll be an expensive thing. ... [Movies] will sit in the theaters for a year, like a Broadway show does. That will be called the "movie" business." George Lucas
Critics are already crying foul and saying that such a catastrophic implosion could not possibly occur in a single season but those of us not close enough to the economics of the industry are left to wonder.

Films, regardless of where they are shown and how they are funded, still must be written so our pens are not likely to become T-Rexes any time soon. But for the those of us who have only recently come to the realization that if we want to write films, we probably need to make them, too, this could be a game changer. What happens to independent film? Where do the art house theaters go?

Well, here's one place. How about your BRAIN.

The two film giants go on to make predictions about video games being more character driven and some sort of dream creating gadget where people can control what they see in their minds when they sleep. Maybe that's the future of the writer's the pen? Writing people's fantasies. Oh wait. I thought that's what screenwriters already did. I guess now the movies will be in the mind instead of on the big screen.

What I find kind of amusing about the whole "watch your own story in your dreams" thing is that writers have been seeing their own movies in their sleep for as long there has been pencil and paper so  I guess it's about time technology caught up.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Can Writing Keep You Sane in Your Old Age?

Writers often jokingly point at the blank page as the source of their insanity (and yeah, white paper is evil) but an article by the National Institute on Aging suggests that participation in some kind of regular artistic activity may do the opposite. (Thank you, Susan Lee Smith for the article) Specifically, the article says that singing, writing, dancing, playing an instrument, painting and acting may directly affect not just health and well being of the aging but also slow the decline of cognitive ability. I wonder if photography counts. I hope it counts.

Did you see what I said? The arts may keep you SANE!

If these assumptions are true, they explain a lot for me, personally,  and the premise of the arts as a fountain of mental youth is a beacon of hope. HOPE, I tell you.

Here's why. Stay with me. I will tie this back to the arts and writing. I promise.

There's no easy way to say it. This past year has been utter hell because my mother is batty, bless her southern fried heart. It's not Alzheimer's. It's not dementia. She is just plain ol' mad as a March hare nutty and my sister and I are spent from balancing our own lives with her outbursts and ongoing struggles to make her seek and maintain proper care. She is only 68 years old. Aging parent issues are exhausting enough as it is but throw in a reasonably young woman who thinks you sneak in her house in the middle of the night and steal her Lorna Doones? Oh boy. It's no joking matter, really. Her own mother did actually suffer from a form of dementia that progressed into Alzheimer's. I see their two illnesses as very separate situations. My mother has personality disorders and mental illness. Her mother had a disease. However, her mother ALSO exhibited some of the same anti-social behaviors that my mother does so she got a double whammy.

Ugh. Where does that leave me? Is it hereditary? Will I be crazy, too? Am I already?

I dunno.

Here is what I do know.

Neither of them ever had a glimmer of love of books or music or poetry or art or theater or photography or ballet or anything at all artistic in their lives. Nothing. Oh, they faked it now and then when it suited them but histrionic narcissism makes you incapable of appreciating somebody else's talent because you are so consumed with your own desire to be the center of attention that appreciation in another direction is insulting.

But WHAT IF you are an average normal aging human being and the arts are a regular part of your entertainment diet? What if you paint and dance or go to concerts or write? Can you slow down the decline of your mental faculties?

I choose to believe you can. If so, I'm doing okay with my singing and painting and writing and flute playing and gardening and photography and theater and whatever other trouble I can get into between now and the time my hair turns gray. But if not... well, even if I go crazy,  I think I'd rather be nutty doing something that makes my body and mind feel good instead of screaming about  missing Lorna Doones.

The photo below is of the Nile Temple Dancers from Daughters of the Nile. I confess to knowing very little about this charitable organization except that they are associated with Shriners Hospitals. Judy Lee, a lady I worked with many many many moons ago, is part of this amazing group of ladies and she says they dance  to help raise money for the the Shriners Hospitals in Houston and the Burn Hospital in Galveston.

These ladies are leaving positive footprints on the planet in the wakes of their individual existences regardless of what seasons they live in and don't you want to be just like them when you grow up? How do they do it? The arts.