Rain Man

Just watched Rain Man for the first time.

A couple weeks ago I saw a new movie called People Like Us.

These movies start out on the same basis, with similar characters, problems and situations.  A greedy guy in a semi-dishonest relationship gets a call that his estranged father has just died.  He has to fly across the country to go to the funeral, taking his supportive, but dissatisfied girlfriend with him.  After the funeral, the will is read and he finds out that he wasn’t left everything he hoped.  Instead, he comes to the realization that he has a sibling he never knew about and the majority of his father’s inheritance is going to them.  Of course he decides to pursue the money and meet his sibling.

At this point, the movies cease to follow the exact arc.  In Rain Man the protagonist discovers that his brother is a high-functioning autistic savant.  In People Like Us the protagonist meets his half-sister who is a single mom and recovering alcoholic.  These sound like completely different scenarios, but the initial plot is so alike that I had trouble differentiating between them.

I’m not gonna say that Rain Man is a better movie though.  In fact, for something  so well-known, I thought Rain Man had very clear writing problems.  At least one subplot went absolutely nowhere.  The movie is told from Tom Cruise’s character’s point of view–the guy who finds out he has a brother–until half-way through the movie, then it’s all Rain Man’s viewpoint.

Except when it’s not.

This movie breaks a lot of rules.  And I’m a rule-breaker.  I guess I was just disappointed at the way it broke rules.

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Sickness

I am very sick.

And also contemplating a lot of my story.  I’ve been working on a trilogy of YA books since last year.  This third book is my current struggle.

I have never written sequels to any of my works.  I am not usually a big fan of that.  Maybe I’ve been burned by too many authors who wrote lame sequels or maybe it’s my ongoing dislike for most TV shows.

You tell me.

Whatever the reason, this book is very hard.  I have to keep all the information in my head while I write, which is not a strongpoint of mine.  I have a villain with very layered reasons as to his motives and desires.

Like this guy.

Here we come to the upside of being sick.

I have oodles of time to sit around feeling awful and thinking of my story.  I can dissect the characters in peace, without any comment from friends or family.  I can live in their world without worrying about losing sight of my own, because hey, I’m not going anywhere.

Great.  Now I’m thankful for being sick.

Impossible Impossibilities

Making a film is impossible.  Come on, the only way Hollywood does it is to call on an army of thousands, millions of dollars from investors and the finest directors, writers, cinematographers, composers, actors and editors on the planet.  They have an establishment.  If you’re not in it, if you don’t know someone, if you don’t sleep with half of California, you’ll never be a part of filmmaking.

Right?

At some point, usually many points, artists are told something very similar to this.  I’ve heard it…a lot.  And I’ve bought into it at times.

A long time ago my mom taught me to keep going.  She did this through encouraging me to stay in choir, keep writing, take this class, oh you like to draw–take this other class, theater sounds good–here’s a theater program even though we can’t afford it.  So I’m going to work extra just so you can go.  She came to my shows, most of the time she had to–she was helping.

When I started making films, my mom started hosting actors.  She has been on set…many times.  She offers feedback on scripts, first edits, actors, and anything else.  She has acted in my films and recently co-wrote a short film with me.

It’s hard to give up on something when someone else refuses to give up on you.

Because of this, I am about to attempt an animated film.  Hand-drawn.

Yeah, I know.

Here’s a sneak peek of some of my conceptualizing.

Themes

What is the theme of your life?  Your career?  Your favorite movies?  Things you’ve written, whether books, screenplays, badly scribbled poetry or bathroom/empty wall graffiti?

Have had several conversations with friends this week on theme.  I made the comment that Christopher Nolan (Inception, Momento, The Prestige) has the same theme in all his movies.

What is it?

Reality.  What is reality?  What do we choose to be reality?  Is reality important?  Why is reality important?  Who decides what is reality?

If you think about his films–Batman movies included–you will discover this theme, over and over.  It is obviously the entire point of Inception and Momento.  I won’t ruin the movies for you if you haven’t seen them.  In The Dark Knight the Joker lives in his own reality, where he has made his own conclusions about the nature and actions of man.  Bruce Wayne’s own perception of the nature of man is sadly mistaken too, which is why this movie is so interesting and haunting.  If the Joker was wrong and Bruce Wayne was wrong, doesn’t that make them both right?  Humanity will ultimately choose evil or good, depending on the people and circumstance.

That got really deep for a second.

Moving on.

I have discovered an alarming theme to my writing.  It became very apparent recently, when I finished a time travel book called Paradox.  Paradox is about a girl who meets someone before she knows him, but he already knows her.  He sends her back to his childhood.  Chaos ensues.

When I finished writing this book, I cried.  Well, got teary.  I was sad.  Not just because it was over.  It’s just a very sad book.

I’m not gonna tell you my theme.  It will become apparent to anyone who reads my work.  But it makes me wonder…

What’s your theme?

Story

“By the 1990s script development in Hollywood climbed to over $500 million per annum, three quarters of which is paid to writers for options and rewrites on films that will never be made.  Despite a half-billion dollars and the exhaustive efforts of development personnel, Hollywood cannot find better material than it produces.  The hard-to-believe truth is that what we see on the screen each year is a reasonable reflection of the best writing of the last few years.

Many screenwriters, however, cannot face this downtown fact and live in the exurbs of illusion, convinced that Hollywood is blind to their talent.  With rare exceptions, unrecognized genius is a myth.  First-rate screenplays are at least optioned if not made.  For writers who can tell a quality story, it’s a seller’s market–always has been, always will be.  Hollywood has a secure international business for hundreds of films each year, and they will be made.  Most will open, run a few weeks, close, and be mercifully forgotten.”

~Robert McKee, Story

My DP friend has forcibly loaned me his copy of Story.  I have a lot of trouble reading non-fiction, which is why I didn’t read it in film school when my teacher repeatedly recommended it.

Well I’m reading it.

Thanks.

And I take great comfort in the above passage.  To some people this may sound depressing–a lot of my friends have little respect for most of the movies coming out of Hollywood.  If this lot is the top-of-the-line, what hope do we have for future films?

That’s where my own self-conceitedness takes flight.  I know I can write better or at least as good as those films.  I was taught screenwriting by an expert.  Mentored by genius writers and storytellers.  Critiqued by friends and family and you, whoever you are.

But mostly, I really, really, really want to make films.  That will be seen.  And you can’t stop someone when they really want something.

Hollywood taught me that.

Wreck-It

In California I saw a movie.  No, technically two movies, but one was very short.  It seemed fitting.

Wreck-It Ralph.

And Paperman.

Wreck-It Ralph was great.  Really fun, funny and gorgeous.  Some twists, some awesome techno-electronica music, and some unexpectedly lovable characters.

Paperman was…amazing.

A few weeks ago I was reading a blog post by The Active Protagonist.  She posted about Paperman, a Disney short expected out soon.  Me being the pessimist that I am, thought that I would never see this movie.  Then I went to Wreck-It Ralph.

PAPERMAN.

California

Landed at LAX last night.  Actually left the airport this time.  First time in the city of angels, free to move about.  

Thoughts?

It’s big.

Really, really, really big.  The bigness of this city is astounding.  From the air I had a perfect view of the traffic, which is intense, let me tell you.  I never understood how crazy the traffic really was.  All those tiny cars down there, millions of them, tracking along the highways with their tiny lights, trying to get home.

Crazy.

This had me thinking about the film community.  Sometimes I don’t understand how massively huge is the crowd of people making movies.  I’m not talking about the Internet, either.  Yeah, we can get online and see a film made by someone in Sweden or New Zealand or Kentucky with a few clicks.

That’s awesome.

But I’m actually talking about the community even within my own city, KC.  In the past three months I have met so many filmmakers I can’t even put a number on it.  Some from the 48.  Some through the friends from the 48.  Craigslist.

We are not lonely artists.  Maybe we were once.  Not anymore.

Lucasfilm

I went looking for articles about Lucasfilm and the buy-out by Disney.  I wanted to research enough to present an accurate opinion in the post.

Instead, I found a post by Bret D. Asbury, and he said a lot of really good things.  I don’t agree with everything, of course.  Below is a quote from his article.  I found that he approached the subject of new Star Wars movies in the most open-minded, yet fan conscious way I have heard so far.

“I do not mean to suggest that Episodes I-III are cinematic masterpieces, any more so than Episodes IV-VI are. I only wish to point out that the prequels also have their moments of excellence. It follows that the sharp distinction between the original trilogy (wonderful) and the second trilogy (rubbish) is unwarranted—both are flawed, yet for long stretches remarkably entertaining space operas. Today’s kids seem to understand this better than their parents, who are often so concerned with protecting the legacy of their beloved films that they can’t appreciate the new ones. My son and his friends embrace Mace Windu as much as Luke Skywalker and are just as scared of Darth Maul as they are of Darth Vader. To them, Star Wars is a captivating, six-film succession, each episode replete with a healthy dose of quirky characters, action, and mystery.”

(Find the rest of his article here: By Bret D. Asbury)

I grew up with the Star Wars movies.  When the new ones came out I was still a kid.  All my opinions of them were jaded by my older siblings and my dad.  I believed that “Ani” Skywalker was a bad actor because everyone else said he was.

Then I learned to screenwrite.

Have you ever listened to the dialog in the Star Wars movies, regardless of who’s speaking or the episode number?  Have you ever seen Hayden Christensen in another movie besides Star Wars?  What about Mark Hamill?

Then how do you know that these guys are bad actors?  Mark Hamill got in a terrible car accident between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.  His face was a bit disfigured.  I mean, they stopped promoting him as the pretty boy in that movie, or didn’t you notice?

Sometimes when we grow up with things we love them like newlyweds.

I suggest you re-watch the Star Wars films.  Watch them like a screenwriter.  You’ll see the bad dialog, plot holes and inconsistencies.  You’ll see the mistakes and 70s weirdness.

Or don’t.

I mean, we all love things unreasonably, don’t we?  Don’t worry, I still love Ferngully, Jurassic ParkLord of the Rings, and the Spiderman cartoon.  And I will defend them forever.

(Here’s a link to interesting Star Wars info: 100 Things You Didn’t Know About The Empire Strikes Back)