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Month: January 2010

My good friend snow

My dreams and wishes came true today as we got over 8 inches of snow, allowing me to sleep in and stay home from my usual weekend job. And I get to stay home again on Sunday too. Woohoo! Thank you snow, I appreciate your kindness.

I spent the free time wisely. I slept (as I already said) and I worked on some music. I finished a 7-minute piece I call Seeing Infinity (Opus 58). It is the 10th piece completed for my upcoming album. I have two more pieces to finish up, so I’m hoping I will be able to have all the songs completed some time in February. One is over 15 minutes long, and it needs some (maybe a lot of) orchestrational editing and an ending. The other is much shorter, only 2 or 3 minutes long. It needs just a dash of orchestrational editing and an ending as well. So the melodies and structures and whatnot are all there, they just need a good polish. Then my album will be done, over an hour long with 12 pieces of music, some short, some longer, some in the middle.

Of course, then it will take another month or so to actually get the thing manufactured and processed by CD Baby. But that will be the easy part for me.

I guess that’s it for now.

I have lived another day…

I still haven’t gotten past page 8 of my screenplay [The Shadow Prince]. I seem to be having trouble getting the tone I want from the scene I’m working on, because I’m not really sure what I want, and it’s a pretty dark scene. It might not seem that dark to a reader (or movie viewer) who reads (or watches) it in a minute or two. But trying to understand the world from that character’s point of view, it’s pretty terrible, nothing I’d want to experience. So it’s one of the basic challenges of writing: how do you get a character to react believably to an experience real people could never have? One could write a book chapter on that. Or maybe an entire book. (And probably someone has.)

I finished reading William Goldman’s book Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade the other day. Very good book. But, gah, kind of frustrating because you know you can’t just all the sudden be a part of the [film] industry, and it’s all written from the perspective of someone who’s in the industry. Don’t you hate when famous rich people do that? They’ll be in an interview and nonchalantly say “so I had lunch *famous name here* and discussed my project” … blagh.

Also, I created a formspring.me page, after seeing a bunch of other people do and jumping on the bandwagon. Basically anybody can ask you anonymous questions through it. Might be fun, might be stupid and annoying, but it’s all the rage. I put widget for it on the side of this blog, as you should be able to see. As if the columns weren’t cluttered enough.

Hey, guess what? They’re calling for snow Friday night and Saturday! I am scheduled to work on Saturday! If the fates are kind, maybe, just maybe, I won’t have to go? We’ll see. Come on, sky. Give me a storm. Paint the outdoors an ocean of white. Let it tear the people from their schedules, let it frighten and anger the innocent drivers on their weary ill-fated journeys through the restless roads. And let me sleep! O, dear fates, let me sleep and rest and dream of the goodness I shan’t wake up to see!

Bravo! Bravo!

Thank you, thank you.

My screenplay is in production!

By which I mean: I am in the process of producing (creating) my screenplay.  Ha ha, I fooled you all, didn’t I?  You thought I had some big success story, huh?  Well, I don’t!  Never have, never will.

Anyway, enough of that.  I’m on page 8 of my new screenplay The Shadow Prince.  I will tell you this: writing is exhausting and hard!  And that’s only 8 stupid pages!  But it’s still fun, wish I could do it all day.  By which I mean: I wish I could procrastinate for a living.  And I keep second-guessing the overall story and how it ends.  One minute I’ll think it’s great, just perfect, can’t wait to get to it.  Then I’ll think, blagh, nobody’s going to like that.  But then I think, well, I like it, so who cares!  But then I think, do I like it?  Then I think, of course, it’s pretty awesome!  Then I think, well, it is a bit lame.  Then I think, wait second, it’s brilliant!  Then I think, eh, it’s too corny.  Then I think, let’s just get to page 9 first.

In other news, I need a haircut.  And new glasses.  I got my glasses five years ago and my near-sighted eyes have worsened.  All this computer screen staring, I guess.

The character cleverness cheat

I don’t know why I’m writing this.  I’m exhausted and I need to go to bed.  But I was just thinking about this and wanted to record my thoughts.

There’s a moment in the show House when Dr. House wants to drug his friend Wilson.  So he gets two coffee cups and puts them on his desk.  He drugs one.  Then, when Wilson comes in, House holds out the cup that isn’t drugged for him.  Wilson, knowing how House can be mischievous, takes the other cup, the cup that actually is drugged, the cup House knew Wilson would take.

This makes House seem somewhat clever.  He knew Wilson would suspect something with the cup he held out, he knew which cup Wilson would ultimately choose!  How clever!

NOT!

Because Wilson didn’t really have a choice.  The writer chose for him.  The writer could have made the scene more convoluted.  What if House held out the drugged cup because he knew Wilson would suspect something, but knew that Wilson would also know the he would know that he would suspect something.  But, what if Wilson also knew that?  And that?  And that and that and that…

The point should be pretty clear.  Characters don’t really know each other at all, because there’s really nothing to know.  They’re all just fictional characters.  So when a character seems to be clever by guessing or accurately predicting another character’s future actions, that’s not cleverness, that’s just a writer cheat.  Not that it’s not a valid cheat, it can work fine if it’s not overused.  But it is a bit of a cheat, yes?

The Shadow Prince and such other things

I’m still trying to figure out the story details for my next original screenplay, The Shadow Prince, but I’m fairly sure the main concept will not change at this point: A young prince awaits to be crowned king when mysterious murders begin to plague the kingdom by a killer who calls himself The Shadow Prince.

Bum bum bum!!

I don’t think I will keep the identity of The Shadow Prince a mystery though; I plan on revealing his (or her?) identity fairly early on so that the fun of the story can come from a sort of cat-and-mouse game, along with the other issues of why exactly he’s on a killing spree. (Fine… I don’t think there’s any harm in revealing that it will be a male character.)

Anyway, there are still plenty of details to be worked out in my outlines before I can begin actually writing the screenplay. And while I’m really excited about the story, I’m not sure anything will ever come of it because it will probably require a big budget to shoot. Especially since I hope to put a dragon in it… you know, for good measure. Ahhh, it would be such an awesome movie… daydream daydream daydream… especially with some exciting fantasy music.

Hmmm… anything else? I’m currently reading William Goldman’s Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade which just makes me want to be part of the film industry like crazy. Which I hate, because there are so many wannabes already, and who really wants to be a yet another wannabe? Anyway, it’s a fun book. At one point, I think Goldman says that an original spec is the hardest to write because you’re starting from nothing. I can’t truly agree, mostly because I’ve only written one screenplay so far and have nothing to compare the experience to. But I think I would agree, and I’d further speculate that writing your first screenplays, with no guarantee that anybody anywhere will be interested in them, is perhaps the hardest of all, because while you’re writing you know that all your work might come to nothing. At all. No paycheck. Perhaps not even very many readers. Then again, maybe that makes it easier, because there’s no pressure, no deadlines. I don’t know; even if a screenplay I wrote never got produced, I sure wouldn’t mind a paycheck. But deadlines? Blagh! But if it was my one and only job… I probably wouldn’t mind so much.

But I’m probably just daydreaming. Even if I ever do make money off this, it probably never gets easier.

And it’s so much fun at the same time anyway.

I probably will buy a professional camcorder at some point, but I’ll hold off for now and focus on The Shadow Prince. Maybe I’ll buy one when I actually start trying to market The Melody Box to entertain myself while I wait for the dismal rejections and non-responses.

But what I really wanna do is direct…

I’m still mentally plotting my second screenplay (I have to know exactly how it will end before I begin writing), but I’m thinking it will be called THE SHADOW PRINCE.  Doesn’t that sound exciting?  Of course it does.  I’m not quite ready to say what it’s about; that will have to wait until I’m completely done plotting.  But daydreaming of the plot has been very fun.

Anyway, the more I think about films, the more I daydream about really being the one in creative control.  I guess that’s everyone’s dream, though, huh?  Earlier today I was browsing Amazon for some professional but cheap camcorders in $1000 to $3000 range.  You see, part of me is saying “Yes!  Buy a camera and make some shorts!  Maybe even film a simple feature!  Why wait until you have $100,000 to invest in production?  Just buy a decent enough camera and start now!  Experiment!” And it’s very tempting.  But then the other part of me says “A couple thousand dollars?!  Are you crazy?  You need to be saving your money!  And it’s not like you’d be able to make anything that you could sell to help you regain your loss!  Even with a nice camera, what are you going to film, the family dog?!  You’ll have no sets, no lighting, no actors, no big group of friends that will do as you say for no payment… you’re really gonna have to wait until you have more $$$$… a LOT more…” and then the other side says “But it would be so much fun!” and the other side “But at what cost?”  So the internal battle rages on.

You have to learn rules to break them? Nonsense.

Just a quick little post…

I was ruffling through some books on screenwriting (like books on writing in general, some look interesting, brilliant perhaps, but most look like over-analytical, repetitive, worthless blither), and I saw the phrase “You have to learn the rules to break them!”  That phrase seems to pop up a lot in books on artistic instruction.  I’ve never been very fond of it.

There either are rules or there aren’t.  This “you have to learn rules to break them” is a lazy middle ground for scared confused people who don’t want to think one way or the other.  If there are rules, then they have to name them, and then someone else comes up with counter-examples, and they fail.  If there aren’t any rules, it might make the point of a book or lesson seem useless.

I guess the problem really lies in that creativity and art in general cannot be taught, making books about creating art seem hypocritical.  So, to justify the writing of their books, authors try to pull out “rules” … otherwise, the book is just a collection of subjective opinions, isn’t it?  Well, yes, actually it is.  That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily unhelpful, but it does mean the author can’t always be objectively right.  And for some reason a lot of artists and authors really want that… for it all to be objective… if even in some small way.  That’s either because the artist is too afraid to think for himself and wants to create an objective way to think about the arts, or the artist wants everyone to agree with what he thinks based on things greater than mere opinion.

I would say there are rules, but they are psychological, complex, and many times subjective.  We can’t yet write books on them, and merely knowing what they are might change them.

However, we can write books on our opinions and patterns we find, and I think it’s perfectly valid to say that those patterns emerge from the shadows of those subjective currently-unknowable rules.

But to say “you have to learn the rules to break them” is just an excuse for people to teach them.  If it were true, it would imply that rules could only be broken within a set of other unstated rule-breaking rules, for which the rule of learning the rules to break them doesn’t apply, which of course is hypocritical nonsense.

What people should just go ahead and say is: “You don’t really have to learn this, but here it is if you’re interested.  And you might discover it by yourself anyway.”

Avatar is so anti-American! OMG!

I’ve been hearing quite a bit about how the story for the new film Avatar is “anti-American” or “anti-military” or whatever. I don’t really get it. I saw the movie, the images were fantastic, especially in 3D. The climactic battle sequences with rocket guns leaving 3D trails of smoke and futuristic helicopters duking it out with giant alien birds were probably the best battle sequences I’ve ever seen in cinema. The story, however, was (like Star Wars) pretty basic. Not that that’s bad, it could’ve been much much worse. It’s probably good that it was basic; makes it that much more accessible, which it almost has to be when you’re spending a bazillion dollars on the special effects.

Unlike Star Wars, though, Avatar does not take place a long time ago in another galaxy far far away, but in our future with our very own great great grandchildren (or whatever, I didn’t do the math) in our galaxy. So I guess some people are thinking “Wait a minute, are you saying that’s that what we’re gonna be like? Evil industrial money-hungry warmongers who don’t mind killing other beings who are as conscious as we are? How dare you!” Now, that could very well be exactly what Cameron is trying to say, but at no point in the movie did a character look at the camera and say “You better watch out and not end up like this, America!” so I can’t respond as if one did.

And if you do sense an anti-American theme, what about the Americans that end up being the heroes? The theme would obviously have to be that indigenous people are too stupid and weak and distrusting to save themselves and must depend on external help, and American people provide such help! American people are actually so much help that a race of thousands can be saved with just the help of three or four (short and less symmetrical) Americans! This is a message to the world! We are America; we are powerful enough to crush you, and benevolent enough to stop ourselves.

But I can’t buy any of it. Everybody agrees that war is bad. What we argue about morally and politically is the nature of its necessity. Similarly, no human is going to prefer living in a flat grey cold metal room when the beauty and wonder of Pandora is just outside the window, especially when the Na’vi (the indigenous aliens of Pandora which are conveniently quite human-like but just a bit more visually interesting) seem to stay very clean, well-fed and sheltered, out of danger, and have no waste management problems. The only reason we humans would prefer a less beautifully green living atmosphere is to make the aforementioned aspects of life more practical. A toilet may not be the most beautiful thing in the world, but it’s extremely practical. Most humans would probably want to stop being humans and become Avatars, as the main characters in the film do.

Here on Earth, you’re perfectly free to live as naturally as you want, so why don’t people who claim to want it actually pursue it? Because they don’t really want it. They want to keep using their toilets and air conditioning and email, and then complain about the evils of industry. Meanwhile, beautiful green nature will freeze you and burn you and starve you and get you dirty everywhere. Woohoo. (But not Pandora!)

I digress. In Avatar, the differences between good and evil are pretty easy to recognize. The story might’ve been more powerful (to some audiences) if the differences were more ambiguous, but that would’ve also made it more challenging, and thus more risky business-wise. If you find it anti-American, I guess it’s because you feel the film is negatively stereotyping Americans. But in the film, you really only see the Americans that are part of the story’s conflict, so you’d have to be assuming an awful lot about the Americans in that future that are not part of the battle and/or that are still on Earth. Kinda seems like you’re doing most of the stereotyping yourself.

(Also, I don’t recall America ever invading any country as different and beautiful and wondrous as Pandora, so I don’t see any important similarities between the Pandora invasion and any real-world historic or current invasions.  If Cameron wanted to make a statement that such beauty and wonder are inherit in any culture we invade but are in the eyes of the beholder, he wouldn’t need many special effects for that.  And he wouldn’t make as much money.  And I think others have already tried.)

I wrote a screenplay… now what?

(Disclaimer – I don’t really answer the question in this post, I just blather about possibilities.)

I met my first (and maybe only) goal for the new year: finish my screenplay. Well, the rough draft at least. I finished writing THE MELODY BOX yesterday. It’s about a young lad who is given a music box that writes infinite melodies. Ah, what a wonder it is! It’s 93 pages (really 92, because the last page is comprised only of the words “FADE OUT”). Many resources I have looked at say that the standard screenplay length for a beginner is 90-120 pages, and I was aiming for 90-95, so I’m kind of happily surprised that just by following my outline it worked out to just around what I was hoping for. I guess that is a sign that I am brilliant.

Okay, so I’ve got my first ever screenplay. Now what?

I don’t know.

From online screenwriting blogs and some books I ruffled through, I think I need to do a couple things.

1 – I need to polish this screenplay. I’ve given a copy to a some friends, and look forward to any feedback they might give. Hopefully I can force my parents to read it as well. Also, I need to get my mind off of it, because right now I’m so close to it that I’d probably be afraid to change much of it. So I need to–

2 – Write more screenplays. I’ve actually read you shouldn’t try marketing your first screenplay until you have written several, because potential agents or producers might say “I like your writing, but this one isn’t right for us, what else ya got?” and if you don’t have anything else, you’re kinda shooting yourself in the foot, especially since the chance of anyone saying that is pretty low to begin with. (Some also say that your first few screenplays will be complete garbage anyway; you just have to write them for the practice.) At this point, I don’t know if I’ll be able to resist dipping my toes in the water and trying to sell THE MELODY BOX before I finish anything else. I guess we’ll see how long it takes me to polish it and/or write another screenplay. It’s very tempting to just try marketing the screenplay RIGHT NOW, but I’ll resist.

3 – Try marketing it. A lot of the books I ruffled through suggested that one should get an agent, but some blogs I’ve read suggest that if you’re new to screenwriting and nobody recognizes your name, an agent might not be much help. So I’ll probably try marketing the screenplay directly to producers. I’m not quite sure how to do that, but from what I can tell, it involves sending out query letters, giving people a short description of my screenplay and asking if they’d like to read it. 99.9% will say no or never respond. If someone does request a copy, I send them the whole thing. And then, if the gods really favor me, they buy an option, which means I can’t sell the screenplay to anyone else for a year or so in exchange for $$$$. And then, if the gods really really favor me, they buy all the rights to it and make it into a real movie, and I win an Academy Award and become famous and all my dreams come true. I guess. (Of course, it could be purchased by a more low-budget studio, and might go directly to DVD or whatever, in which case, no Oscars.) Anyway, even if it’s optioned, they might not ever buy the full rights, or they may hold on to the option for several years, which means it can take a screenplay over a decade or two to actually be realized, if it ever is. So this really isn’t a very good get-rich-quick scheme at all.

One really confusing aspect that came up a lot in my research is the WGA, the Writers Guild of America. I don’t quite understand their role in all this, but from what I can tell, the big studios in the industry are “WGA signatories” and will only hire writers that are members of the guild. In turn, guild members can ONLY work for these WGA signatories. Want to join the WGA? Well, you can’t, at least not until you’re actually writing for a WGA signatory. So I’m not quite sure how exactly you get in.

My guess is that I really don’t have to worry about it until some WGA signatory producer or production company actually buys or options my screenplay, and then I’ll be pretty much forced to join. This would be very good, as I think it would imply that there’s a good amount of money involved (and then the WGA would always take 10% of all my writing profits). But if the screenplay is produced on a low budget, it’s possible that my screenplay could be produced by a non-signatory company. The thing that kind of bothers me is that, if I am lucky enough to have my screenplay purchased by a signatory company and am forced to join the WGA, I have to completely STOP marketing my screenplay to non-signatory companies. Which means I have to find out whether or not a production company is a signatory before I query them, which seems like it would be a pain.

And, to make matters even more confusing, the WGA doesn’t even really seem to exist. There’s actually a WGAWest and a WGAEast, each of them for different halves of the nation. I’d have to join East, since I’m in Virginia. Or I guess I could quickly move to California and join West?

So the entire business of screenwriting seems ridiculously confusing, at least for someone just starting to explore it. I guess I really don’t have to worry about much though since the chance of my screenplay being optioned by any producer or studio in the first place is very VERY small.

Anyway, for now I’m just waiting for feedback on THE MELODY BOX while plotting out some other screenplay ideas and trying to decide what to work on next. (And I’ve got TONS of ideas…)

PS – My recent obsession with screenplay did make me fail one of my goals–to keep updating my daily comic. I still have plenty of comic ideas, just less enthusiasm with which to draw them and post them. Hopefully I will continue though, eventually. I’m paying for the domain, after all.

The new year is boring so far

Mostly because I haven’t been up to much. I spent New Year’s day sleeping in as long as I could, and then I spent the day after at work, and I plan on spending Sunday asleep or at work (hopefully not at the same time, of course). And same for Monday.

Actually, I did spend some time playing Super Mario Galaxy on Wii a few hours ago. It’s fun.

I also applied for a couple jobs last night, raising the number of jobs I have applied for this year to 2. Let’s see how high the count gets.

Oh, I’ve also been writing a ton of melodies in my head. But I haven’t been writing them down, so they are getting lost. Nothing to fear, though, since my melodic creativity is infinite. Well, maybe not infinite, but close enough that I don’t notice the difference.