T.M.I.? K.I.S.S. (part 1)

posted by victor @ 9:26 am May 26, 2010 in film,writing

One especially delicate matter in screenwriting is the delivery of information, or Exposition. As in, “Exposition Cop,” that guy hovering around a crime scene rattling off details about who’s who, what happened, etc., to bring his buddy (but mainly us) up to speed. Of course, every movie requires exposition. Some handle it artfully, weaving it in so well that you aren’t even aware of receiving sizable doses of data; others — well, not so much, as with Exposition Cop or similar devices, when exposition feels exactly like what it is…information delivery:

“Oh, they might look clean, but these guys are nothing but trouble. Big one’s Johnny, list of priors long as your arm, including armed robbery; bald one there’s Sam, junkie with a penchant for passing bad checks; the little one’s Marty, supposed to be some kinda big-deal hacker, street rep a mile wide but nobody’s been able to pin anything on him. Yet!”

But there is something important for the writer to consider: if you find yourself struggling to find ways of artfully delivering all the info you need to, maybe the problem is a case of TMI, too much information to deliver without feeling heavy-handed. And this may be pointing to that other possibility — that another, larger issue is to blame: Too Many Ideas.

For the writer working with a story through multiple drafts, things can start to feel “too simple,” and it’s hard to resist the urge to “make it more interesting” (more elaborate, more complicated) in order to satisfy that itch. At least if you’re me. But this is often counter-productive, as readers/viewers will be receiving your story only once to decide whether or not they like it. Much as we would love it, they will not be studying or taking notes; the story has to be simple enough to “wash over” them, easily graspable and making sense the first time ’round (of course without being predictable or overly simplistic — a whole ‘nuther kind of problem!). This means being willing to admit that the trouble lies at a more root level: perhaps your story doesn’t lack complexity, maybe it lacks strong, definitive beats and turns. The “easy” solution is to complexify it, instead of doing some “back to the drawing board”-level work. A tough call, but one we need to be ready to consider and act on.

hey what happened?

posted by victor @ 11:48 am May 16, 2010 in film

skepticalericYeah, what happened to that wicked-fast post-production pipeline that had us hitting benchmarks (First cut! Final cut! Color locked!) and expecting final delivery sometime a few months ago? Nothing! We did it! Whew.

But what followed immediately after was a round of internal (re)evaluation and a critical round of “market testing” (limited screening/feedback gathering) that confirmed our suspicions about what needed work and clarified some other weak spots. The result was some new material that needed to be shot (and cut, vfx’d, scored, etc.), plus some new creature effects (!). Plus a second round of color grading, various dialog, sound and music tweaks, etc., etc. All important improvements…but also more time.

So instead of the expected “What? Already!?” surprise delivery, we’re wrapping up a more polished (and improved) finished piece that will have taken almost exactly 9 months to gestate. That’s right. And like that other business, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster of highs and lows..but mostly highs, with an ever-increasing appreciation of all the people who participated and gave us such excellent work — without which, of course, this would have been a long, depressing turd polish. As it is, we’ve been able to focus on making sure all that brilliance made it onto the screen, into the story, and all added up to something that is as engaging, fun and entertaining as it can possibly be.

Here is an color grade example, showing the progression from original footage to finished look. More soon. Sorry for the radio silence; it’s been quite frustrating to be in this phase of “very little to talk about” or worse, repeating essentially the same exact thing every time someone asks (“Yeah, well, we’re still working on finishing, you know, color, vfx…almost there!”) — but now that we’re actually wrapping up we’ll have much more to say — and the time to say it.

made

posted by victor @ 3:03 pm January 30, 2010 in film,life,writing

wrappedOkay, so one little running joke throughout this “making a movie” adventure — at least in my head — has been deciding when, exactly, I can say it. Say, “I made a movie.” Okay we, but the point is, when can it actually be considered “made?” It’s important. Why? Well for one thing, I have a notion to get a tattoo commemorating each finished flicker.*

Originally, I figured it would be upon wrapping the shoot. I mean, it takes a LOT to get to that point, and well, you’ve definitely “shot” it, haven’t you. It’s fair, at this point, to say, “I shot a movie.” But — it’s not really a movie yet, is it… I mean, not at all. It’s certainly well on its way to being one at this point; quite unlikely that all this footage will just be shelved, set aside, forgotten. But there’s nothing to show for it. Not yet, not really, other than photos of how much fun/adventure it was!

premiereSo it must be later in the process. Okay, Final Cut! Not the (awesome) software, the event. As in, “We have a final cut!” The film is edited, and that edit is locked. Final. Surely at this point it’s “a movie,” isn’t it? Beginning, middle, end? You could actually sit down and watch it! Could, perhaps…but realistically, almost no one will. Or should! Temp sound, temp VFX, audio levels all over the map, colors still flat, etc., etc., etc. Sure it’s stitched together, but it’s still not presentable. Gah. Maybe it’s not “really real,” until it’s been screened, received (well or otherwise), bought and distributed. Surely THAT is a Made Movie…?? Come to the premiere! Buy it! Rent it!

Naw. Fuck that. I’m tired of waiting. Okay, how’s this: How about when there’s a bona fide, finished, color-corrected, sweetly mixed, tweaked, polished, awesomely awesome finished version of the film that we’re actually sending out on DVD as a screener? One we’ve shown at an official wrap party? ridertattooSounds good to me! Well, in that case, we’re only about one month out from me yelling from the rooftops! Figuratively, at least. And who knows, maybe even getting that tattoo. But…of what? The title? Logo? Hm… I know: Maybe it should be a likeness of Rider’s face… Something tasteful, say, covering my entire chest. Something…Classy. Yeah; I think know he’d like that.

* I don’t have any tattoos yet, but it always seemed to me like something that should mark a special achievement or goal having been reached. This seems to qualify.

filmwriting

posted by victor @ 12:01 pm November 15, 2009 in film,writing

It really is like they say, maddening as it might be for writers like me to hear (at least in the abstract, or certainly from folks who don’t write): A solid screenplay is only the beginning. If you’re lucky enough to see your vision through from start to finish (literally: concept >> development >> production >> post), this lesson can hit home on a whole new level (I’m still in the middle of step 4 right now, but feeling reflective).

First, there’s the movie you write: “The Screenplay” — certainly no small task — which becomes the catalyst for all that may or may not follow — others (partners, crew, talent, etc.) will or will not find it engaging and/or worth pursuing, and so on. Next comes converting all that ephemera into actual stuff: characters into actors, slug lines into physical locations, action lines into shot lists… The part most people are picturing when they say, “making a movie.” But it’s all really just an extension of the first phase (writing), fitting under the umbrella of “gathering ingredients.” All that magic, all that stress, all those slings and arrows, and what you end up with — if the stars align in your favor — is a crate full of stuff someone can hopefully stitch into a “movie.”

darkeningfcpThen comes the actual Making a Movie part. Cutting together all those moments, that amazing thing actors do (I am ever more in awe of this particular piece of magic), all those beautifully lit and composed shots your cinematographer fought for (thank god!), all those pickups your scriptie and AD reminded you to get, all that hard work by all those fantastic people… Then, if the stars continue to align with you, voilá: A movie! Easy-peasy.

I consider myself primarily a writer, but I love the whole enchilada. The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd… And going through the entire process of filmmaking so powerfully informs the writing process and (potentially, at least) enriches it, I think all writers should partake, at whatever level they can. There can be such a disconnect between something that “reads well” and something that actually transfers into strong visual entertainment, and there’s nothing like shepherding an idea through to completion to have those lessons stamped into your writing DNA, hopefully to empower you to write better films, not just scripts. Which I intend to keep working on doing  :^)… (yes, that’s a drooling smiley).

suck wall

posted by victor @ 12:06 am May 2, 2009 in film,life,music,writing

blankcanvasThere comes a time on the road to artistry when one encounters the Wall Of Suck. That is the wall you hit where your natural ability at something leads you to actually study and practice it, which takes you to the point where you are met with the actual depth and breadth of your incompetence… Suddenly, you suck. Suddenly, it is devastatingly clear that your “natural ability” was just a starting place, a jumping off point on a journey to the place where you might actually get good at something. I call it a wall, because this is where you either give up (turn back) or your workload increases exponentially (i.e., your forward movement becomes a vertical climb). I’ve encountered it a few times in my life; some pursuits presented challenges I could not ignore and proceeded to engage with all my energy, damn the consequences… Others were ultimately revealed as misguided, and I bailed.

passionI think what pushes people up and over the wall is passion, pure and simple. Either this thing truly lights you up and inspires you, or it  does not. When it comes down to it, it’s just you and the _____ (guitar, blank canvas, whatever), and no one really gives a shit. If you don’t absolutely love doing it, you will not do the work, and you will continue sucking. The road ahead is arduous, lonely and often boring; frustration is constant (the curse of good taste comes strongly into play), and nothing but overriding love for the sheer doing of it will push you through. Plus you have to be stupid enough to actually think you can be great at something, and be willing to perform (show, tell, whatever) in front of others and be humiliated. Yay! Oh, and your work will truly suck — even after you get pretty good at it — and you will know it (and if you don’t, well, that’s a whole other animal not being discussed here).

So ultimately, the Wall Of Suck is your friend; when you hit it, don’t be discouraged…or do be discouraged, and stop wasting time lying to yourself about what it is you really want to do. It’s probably something else. The artists I am most interested in hearing from are the ones that can’t not do what they’re doing (not the ones trying to be famous/rich/loved for it).

god bless america

posted by victor @ 12:43 am April 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

heatherI ran across this post on Gizmodo featuring what has to be the most adorable sword swallower (ever, in the history of sword swallowing) trying to swallow a new iPod Shuffle. She couldn’t, but it’s not for lack of trying. Priceless video footage of repeated attempts reveal that her manner and voice match her mug to a tee. She joined the Coney Island Circus straight out of high school. And I’m glad she did.

am

posted by victor @ 7:30 pm April 2, 2009 in life

dscf0035I drive a ’66 Mustang. All/mostly stock/factory original, including the dashboard AM radio (the kind with push buttons that feel like they’re actually doing something, pulling cables and whatnot inside), with a tinny dash-top speaker to complete the experience.

savageAnd AM radio is freaking strange. Mostly talk, mostly right-wing, and holy shit, these are strange times for the right. I’ve caught certain tidbits in the past from Michael Savage. I found the guy at least entertaining, at best quasi-coherent and invigoratingly un-PC.

What I’m saying is, there’s not a lot to listen to. Then today, stuck in traffic, I stumbled onto him again, and wow. This guy has completely flipped his lid. Glenn Beck with a Brooklyn accent. Blathering about how much better America was in 1959 (where I’m from!!”).Kind of interesting what’s going on over on the right these days. That’s all.

burpee

posted by victor @ 9:19 pm March 29, 2009 in life

burpOr “burpie.” Either way, it’s a killer workout. Allegedly working every muscle group in your body, (sure feels like it) this move is also called “the prison workout,” as inmates allegedly find it a way to stay in ass-saving form while limited to tiny spaces.

One burpee = from a relaxed stand, crouch down, place palms flat on floor, kick feet out to put you in pushup position; do a pushup; snap feet back to where they were; straighten back up to a stand, stretching your arms above your head to finish (or jumping in the air, if you’re all hardcore). Set-wise, the idea is to do X (a reasonably achievable #), wait/stretch 1 minute, then subtract one… and so on (i.e., 10, then 9, then 8, etc.).

pushupbarsIt’s not very easy.

Stretch first; hold your abdominals tight on the kick-back (don’t let back “sway”). One tip I use that I haven’t seen elsewhere yet: Using something to elevate the hands slightly on that initial squat/pushup, to take some stress/load off lower back & wrists. I’m using a pair of pushup bars. I’m still all hardcore, tho.

blogging right

posted by victor @ 8:40 pm March 26, 2009 in life,writing

sknitterMy wife got into knitting some time ago. Seriously into knitting. She also happens to be a razor sharp design journalist who cracks me up around the house. Put it all together, and you have: The Perfect Blog.

This thing here (my “blog”) is a great example of everything a blog should not be: all over the map, idiosyncratic in the not-good way (“inbred” comes to mind)… I like writing things down (thus making them important), and it’s fun, but I am always shocked to see any significant amount of unique visitors show up in the logs… Wrong turns? Searches gone bad? Actually, these days I have been trying to write things that might be helpful to someone, somewhere (hence the usual geek-centricity), since I have been helped by so many who bothered to write down what they figured out/discovered and love the idea of paying it forward.

Sknitter, on the other hand, has everyting a blog should have: A smart, unique and informed voice, writing passionately on a single subject they know and love while curating interesting, related and on-topic links to fun and informative material. Terry loves doing it, it’s brilliant, and now (of course), it’s catching on.

experiencers

posted by victor @ 12:57 pm February 28, 2009 in life,writing

phoenixlightsI’m in the process of rewriting a sci-fi/horror thriller, and when a good friend alerted me to the UFO Conference being held this past week, I had to go check it out. Nothing like the real deal when it comes to fleshing out characterizations and connective tissue in a screenplay. An interesting presentation by Dr. Lynne Kitei on the Phoenix Lights phenomenon brought me up to speed on something  everyone apparently already knew about, and Peter Davenport gave what amounted to an excellent primer on ufo in a historical context.

But the very best part was our very first night in, an experiencers discussion group moderated by Barbara Lamb, and while a handful of insufferable blowhards threatened to eat up the allotted time, there were others who made it all worthwhile. This is what I’d come for, and the participants did not disappoint.

alienOne woman spoke very simply of a lifetime of dealing with multiple alien species, with her experiences of the events ranging from blissful transcendence to utter terror. When I asked her about it, she explained that it was mostly not knowing what was going on that was frightening, not any sense of malevolence on the part of her abductors. One man added that his repeated requests for explanations were answered only by a wordless communication from one annoyed extraterrestrial that “it doesn’t benefit us to become your teacher.” Others said that this was the same response they’d gotten. It made sense, really… Imagine if lab monkeys insisted on detailed explanations of every process they were forced to participate in. Then, imagine explaining, say, “antibiotics” or “mascara” to said monkey. Understandable that they aliens mostly just keep mum.

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