Once Upon A Goat

We frequent a coffee shop that uses a goat emblem. I always call it goat coffee. In honor of my students from this week and my Dad, I’m going to write a short story for you every time I end up at the goat coffee place.

I’ll try, anyway.

 

North Wall Vines

“Brighton!”

Brighton nestled deeper into the prickly vines. Thorns and sticks scratched her face and hands. Gloves. Next time she would remember her rough gloves.

Right. Next time she had to randomly jump into the vines on the North wall to avoid The Boys she would definitely remember gloves. Maybe carrying gloves should’ve been her go-to action all along, since avoiding groups of people seemed to be her lot in life.

“Come on,” Samuel called out. “She doesn’t want to talk to us.”

Brighton listened to the six retreating footsteps. There should really be seven, Brighton observed. Someone was hiding. Probably Marius. He was always working harder than the others for her affections.

Give up now, she thought, while you still have half a day left to explore the world.

Rustling.

Brighton’s breath caught in her throat. She bit her lip to keep her mouth closed. Don’t cough, don’t cough.

The cough broke free, throwing her head forward into thorns, her hands back against the rock wall to steady her. Coughing and coughing and more coughing. Air seemed in very short supply suddenly.

Hands reached through the vines, parting them like curtains. The hands gently settled on Brighton’s shoulders and pulled her out of the green chaos into the golden hour of twilight. She couldn’t think but coughing, her body shaking, her eyes closed. A flask of water pressed to her lips. She gulped.

Heat surrounded her. She sighed. She opened her eyes to The Boys. All smiles. All aglow. All offering shy pats of encouragement and care, all ready with another flask of water, all focused on her comfort.

She took a deep, free breath. Closed her eyes.

They only want your good, she told herself. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

“Are you alright?” Samuel asked, the chosen leader. He stood beside Marius, whose hand was still softly gripping Brighton’s shoulder. Samuel might be the speaking leader of The Boys, but Marius was definitely the bravest when it came to winning Brighton’s affections.

Brighton sighed again. She offered a smile. Smiles in return. The group relaxed again, happy to be released from any guilt. They only wanted her attention and her comfort, after all.

The slimmest boy, Peregrin, stepped forward to offer a handkerchief for Brighton’s bleeding face. The thorns had caught her harshly and left an angry stain of red across her cheeks. It isn’t queen-like, she thought, to hide from my own subjects. Especially when they simply want my company. Selfish.

“Samuel,” Brighton said. “Must you always follow me?”

He grinned.

“Only when you lead us on such good adventures.”

Brighton had to smile at this. The rest of her life would be leading them on adventures, as dictated by her tribal leaders. Queen. Warrior. Adventurer.

And yet.

“Well, let’s be off,” she said, knowing that every boy would follow her. Knowing that every single one of them longed to be chosen. Knowing that no matter who she chose, she would have their loyalty until her last breath. Knowing that no matter how many vines she hid behind, none could stop the future of a Wandering Queen, even if that queen was only thirteen years old.

She accepted the offered handkerchief for her face and strode away from the wall, Her Boys falling into step behind and around her.

 

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Filmmaking is for Warriors: How to Break a Filmmaker

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Empty white tables. 9 students shuffling in, at least 3 of them super early for class, and at least 3 of them walking in about a minute late. The teacher, a distinguished man with an uncanny resemblance to Tony Stark, sits at the side of a large white board hanging on the wall in front of the pressed-together tables.

The students settle into their normal spots – when you only have to deal with 8 other people, keeping your sacred seat is easy. The majority of these students are graduate students in writing. The rest are split up between undergrads in Communications or English.

I am one of the students that is majoring in Communications, Film Emphasis, and I always feel like everyone else thinks I’m a few dollars short of full-on eccentric weirdo status. I’m the one who wrote the short film about my brother leaving the kitchen cabinets open. I’m the one who dislikes reading aloud in class. I’m the one who did a presentation of the definition of “chick flicks.” (Which is actually an interesting topic that I’d be happy to explore later.)

Let’s be clear: No classmate ever bullied me or said anything malicious in the entire 2 years I attended that school for my Bachelors. Or, if they did, it was done in such a way that I didn’t take it as an insult.

But I was very shy.

And, for the sake of reality, I am a little bit short of normal.

Class starts when Tony Stark begins interacting with the students. He’s fairly informal, but it’s clear that he is in charge, has a plan, and knows what he is talking about. Today is a criticism day, so the format of class is already known to the students. Basically, the first 10 pages of a student’s script are going to be dissected in front of the group, shredded to bits with choice words and “feedback” and then left for dead out on the cold, white tabletop.

How do you break a filmmaker? Enroll them in a screenwriting class and let the games begin.

Here’s the drill: each student has 3 months to finish writing a feature film, a short film script or a TV series script with a full series bible. Since I always worked on a feature screenplay, I won’t waste time explaining the other two concepts in this post.

A feature film is typically between 90 to 120 pages. It must adhere to script guidelines, which are very specific, but if you have Celtx or Final Draft the program has your back on most of that formatting. Script formatting is not something that the teacher devised to ruin your life, though, as opposed to other scholarly guidelines. Script formatting is in place to paint the pictures of your story into the heads of every person on the production crew. By refusing to follow script formatting you are not making a statement about your individuality, you are giving the potential director, cinematographer, set designer and a host of other people a headache.

I wanted to be a professional screenwriter, so I always worked on features (that’s not a commentary on short film writing – generally shorts are harder). I took screenwriting 4 semesters in a row, in addition to other writing classes. The first semester was the easiest, in a way, because I don’t think we actually had to complete a full feature for that one.

Now, imagine this, you have 3 months to write at least a solid 90 pages of workable script. After the first 4-6 weeks you have to have something to be reviewed in class, because your classmates and teacher are there to help you become a better screenwriter. So you write and you write and you write. And those weeks fly by until it’s the night of your work, and everyone has been sent the first 10 pages of your script. As Tony explained, if you haven’t created all the expectations and set-up in the first 10 pages, you better revise.

So me, shy me, introvert me, I bring copies of my script to be read aloud in class. And when the dust settles, all the prose and dialog finished, I stare down at the white pages with black print in horrified anticipation of the reactions.

Tony Stark starts with an opening line like,

“Jessie, I want to like your script…”

(Brace yourselves, he’s about to shoot  me in the heart, and add a double tap to the head for good measure.)

“…But I just don’t get it.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

“Yeah.”

Agreement surrounds me. I wait, patiently, the blood pumping out of my heart, as Tony Stark continues, his words carefully chosen for maximum punch.

The descriptions are falling flat. The characters are too cartoony. Motives are unclear. The environment is difficult to grasp. The plot is too complex.

By the end of the class period I’ve nodded and thanked everyone for their feedback, and I stand awkwardly to gather all of my things. The 9 file out, but I’m waiting til the last, not even a Hobbit in their fellowship. My work of the last month has been reduced to a few lines of a concept, and every bit of my soul that I poured into those 10 pages is withered and gasping, a fish that survived the Pelican, but was dropped on the dry beach to breathe itself to death.

There will always be a time for constructive criticism, but the surest way of breaking a filmmaker is to show them what that really means.

But in the breaking, that filmmaker will be re-made. And the new creation will be far better than the one that was broken.

I left that night, and I contemplated giving it all up. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a screenwriter. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer. Maybe this was my sign to stop killing myself and become an FBI agent instead.

So I went home. And I rewrote that whole script. And I let them tear it apart again. And I signed up for the next semester of direct hits from the man who made billionaire status cool again (or his look-alike anyway).

Because this created better scripts.

And no matter how hard they broke me, this filmmaker never gave up. Because writers write, filmmakers make films, and we do it all the better when we listen to constructive criticism and refuse to give up.

The Tragedy of Small-Minded Grammar Snobs

When I was 11 and carried a notebook everywhere, people wondered about me.  When I still did it at 14, people asked, “What’s with the notebook?”  And I told them I was a writer.

This should’ve freaked them out, really.  I mean, if I saw a little girl who still carried a notebook everywhere from 11-14 and said she was a writer I’d be on my guard.  Mostly because of people like this:

Behave, Geoffrey Chaucer actually did eviscerate people in his writings.  Who do you think provide the best character ideas?  Real people.

But, I always kinda thought that writing was about giving humans somewhere to escape.  I didn’t write to tell the truth–like journalists are supposed to do (hahahahaha).  I wrote because I wanted a new truth.

And I never expected that writers should be this outstanding example of good grammar.  Most of the writers I really loved as a child and even now don’t follow a lot of traditional grammar rules.

If I correct someone’s grammar, it’s not because it’s wrong.  It’s because I want what they said/wrote to be understood.  Whatever the existentialists say, every speaker/writer has an intent to their communication.  And to quote a movie from last year, “Precision of language!”  (The Giver)

So when I see things like this:

“The speech impediment of the 21st century” I die a little inside.  What does Marc Johns think “and I was like” means?  Because he should know, as an English speaker (if indeed he is) that “I was like” doesn’t mean “I said.”  It means, “this is sorta what I said but not precisely, more like the feeling I had/the idea I was communicating, whether in words, thought or body language.”

“I was like” is actually more accurate than “I said” and conveys a lot more information.  If I say, “He told me that he was late because he fell asleep, so I said, ‘Right, have fun with that,'” it’s just not as much information as;

“He told me that he was late because he fell asleep and I was like, sure, he fell asleep.  Probably started texting that slut from Math.  Seriously, he expects me to believe that?  I was like, right, well, have fun with that.”

What this Marc person claims as a speech impediment is actually a more effective method of communication than that which he snobbishly holds in esteem.  Languages, ones that are spoken today all over the world, are living, breathing things.  They change.  They have to.  Communication is constantly updating.  What do we call a picture we take of ourselves that has to be posted in a social networking setting?  How do we say that a book or story is so good at getting our emotions over-flowing that we run out of words to describe it?  What do we call the scent of rain when it stops?

More writers make up words than correct grammar usages.  I hope.  Neil Gaiman isn’t the only person to create a firestorm after coining the above word.  Language is about getting information across, even if that means we make up a better way to understand each other.

The next time someone complains about the addition of “selfie” to the dictionary, say, “Precision of language,” and walk away.  They’re obviously not that interested in communication.

Rules, Anyone?

Welcome to 2015.  The Earth is still round.  The USA is still my home.  Gravity still keeps us trapped on the surface of the only habitable rock in nearby space.

Stop that.  What I’m saying is this; a new year has begun, but humanity remains the same.

Last time I posted I told ya’ll of my new goals for this year.  I briefly mentioned something I dubbed “12 Months of Movies.”  I’ll elaborate.

In this illustrious 2015 I shall complete a film every month.  A “film” in this instance is anything motion captured that exceeds a minute in length and tells a story.  Whether the story is true (or a version of truth, called a documentary), or fiction, animated (drawn, generated, stop-motion), or live action, silent or full of diegetic sound, filmed by me or another person, written by me or another person…it’s all an open field.  When I say “I” in this instance I mean that I will be the driving factor behind the film, whether I produce, direct, write, edit or shoot it, I must be either the main reason or the partnering reason the film gets finished.

So:

  1. I shall complete a film exceeding the length of 1 minute each month.
  2. The film can be any genre and any medium.
  3. I must be the driving force behind it’s completion.
  4. I must post it here, whether it succeeds or utterly fails.  We learn more from our failures than our successes anyway.

(Joss Whedon)

You may be asking me why I am doing this.  After all, I had a fairly successful year last year with 52 creative projects.  Why trouble my life by seeking out a new way to suck my time and energy away?

There is a terrible burden in being an artist.  It is this:  does my work, my life, my soul and heart and time mean anything?  Is this art actually worth anything?

I don’t know yet.  I don’t know what kind of stories I should be telling.  I know what kinds I like to see, but I don’t always make those kinds of stories real.

What I can tell you is that I shall make some comedies.  I shall make some dramas.  I will hopefully make an action film or two, since I enjoy those greatly.  And I shall want, desire and ask for your feedback.

Tell me what works.  Tell me what doesn’t.  Give me your opinion.  Even if it’s “I hated this movie a lot”, tell me.  And when I ask you why, please be specific.

That’s the only way I’ll ever really know if it means anything.

Following that line, what story or genre or type of film would you like to see, if anything could be made?  A vampire movie?  An epic?  A drama about a big family?  An action movie?

Next time I post, it will be a film.  Talk to you then.

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 49

A friend of mine is an English major.  She is an excellent poet.  Her influence, along with my brush with Shakespeare the other week, challenged me to try my mind at a poem.

Please don’t read this thinking I know what I’m doing.  I don’t.  I did my best to follow the instructions and example listed here.  This person knows what they are talking about.  Well, I hope they do anyway.  I wouldn’t know either way.

Here’s my first try at a sonnet.  The dark material comes naturally to me and has nothing to do with reality.

He Said

He said, “we all have secrets left to live”
Like unwrapped Christmas presents left to give
We all have dreams to shatter on ourselves
Like broken black gates leading straight to hell

He said, “I’ll tell you what you’ve been given;”
“All the color of life and its dark paints.”
Where have you hidden the burns of your sins?
In bottles of jade like the dreams of saints?

Now you run from the darkness you run and
You hide the hurt in a coat and a smile
You’re running your soul across the miles
You can’t forget you’ve been chosen for trials

I wrapped all the presents I can’t give
He said, “we all have secrets left to live”

As always, feel free to comment with suggestions, feedback or projects of your own!

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 19

I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on Saturday.

For those of us who are versed in the comic books and/or the animated series, the intensity of this film came as no surprise.  The references to the comics and series were special, funny and fitting.  The suits, acting, action, visuals, characters…pretty much EVERYTHING, made sense and was good.  Great even.

So why isn’t this movie getting good reviews?

The writing team behind this film wrote the new Star Trek movies.  All those emotional nuances and layered characters beloved by audiences (including me) are back in this totally different film.  How Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, and Jeff Pinkner were able to transfer all that writing strength into the super hero genre is beyond me.  They are geniuses.

Not surprising that the person who links them is one of my favorite people, J.J. Abrams.

Why am I talking about Spider-Man when it has absolutely NOTHING to do with my creative project this week?  Because it’s a fantastic movie.  It’s really good. But it won’t make you feel that good when you leave.  It’s not like walking out of the door after The Avengers or Thor 2 or Captain America.  The people in front of me sobbed rather loudly during the film.

But just because it’s not a totally feel-good movie doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome.  That’s my opinion.  Let me know what you think of the film when you see it.

(Also, it has Paul Giamatti in it, one of my favorite actors)

My project this week was a book called Silence Stressed.  I’m guessing at this moment that you’re double-checking the title of this blog.  Yup, same name.

Not a coincidence.

I wrote this book a few years ago.  I’m finally moving forward to self-publishing it through a company called CreateSpace.com.  The proof came in the mail this last week.  I spent the week proof-reading.  It’s all set now.  It’ll be available on Kindle soon too.

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It’s about a girl who gets caught up in a lie, a band, a drummer and a bass player.  It’s about stupidity, growing up, writing.  It’s about young people and music.  It’s about rejection, choices and moving on.

It’s not my life story, but I did write it.

Buy Silence Stressed.  🙂

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As always, feel free to comment with suggestions, ideas and projects of your own!

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 12

EDIT:

Here’s the link to our Indiegogo campaign: Keep Coming Back.

A looooooooooooooong time ago I received an email from a school friend of mine.  She was wondering if I would be interested in revising/rewriting her screenplay.  Basically shehad written out her story of how she had gotten out of a life of drug addiction.

So I did research.  And I talked to a paramedic.  And I listened to her descriptions.

And I rewrote and wrote a screenplay called Keep Coming Back.

We of course wanted to produce the film.  For my 12th week, I made a promo video for the project.  This is us, talking up our project, which will shortly be live on Indiegogo.com.

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 8

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This blog is not about me, which is good, because this week would’ve been the week of failure.

That being said, I did finish my creative project this week.  And it was challenging, but not in the way that I thought it would be.  I’ve wanted to explore comic book creation for a long time.  I have a lot of experience story-boarding for films, so I figured comicking (probably made up that word) would not be too different, right?

Hmmmmmmmmmmm.

Honestly, I had nothing until Thursday.  No creative ideas, no drive to do ANYTHING.  I was at the point where I was ready to admit defeat and move on with no real dignity left.

Until the weather.

Yeah,weather.

It’s been a killer this year.  And one of my best friends hates that.  He wants it to be summer almost as much as I do.  Maybe moreso.  Probably moreso.  Okay, he definitely wants it to be summer even more than I do.

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We had an EPIC text battle between Mother Nature and Jack Frost…as if they fought like Pokemon characters.

And that became my creative project for this week.  The weather + my good friend Cody = one of my favorite created projects.

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As if that wasn’t enough (haha, you thought you’d get to see it now, but I’ve still got things to say), another close friend of mine who draws…SO WELL…helped me finish the comic by adding the city in the second panel and by using his amazing calligraphic skills to finish the comic.  I’ll let ya read what Joshua wrote.

Once again, this is supposed to be 52 weeks of creative–me completing a creative project every week of 2014.  If you’d like to give me any ideas, suggestions, feedback, or let me know you’ve started your own 52 weeks, comment below!  Or visit my production page on Facebook.com/DefineFastProductions.

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 5

You thought that maybe I wasn’t posting this week.  That maybe I chickened out or got distracted or wiped out on my longboard.

Well I did wipeout on the longboard, (that’s not me though ^).  But I’m fine.  Like him, I know how to land dramatically.

This week I decided that the world, you actually, needed a bit of an introduction into the art of writing for the media.  I work for a company that creates commercials and web ads (also other things media related), and I’ve trained extensively in writing.  I guess you could call it a strength.

So I wrote a TV ad this week.

I’m really fascinated by the ads that are able to tell an entire story in such a short amount of time.  The ads that at the end you almost want to clap or cry because in those brief moments you were able to see into the human experience in a funny or touching way.  Yesterday the Superbowl brought us a Budweiser ad about a puppy who is best friends with a Clydesdale.

Some of the group around me found this ad very sweet.  I’m sure that the makers thought that this would cause sales to go up.  (I thought it had creepy subliminal messaging contrary to the song in the background.)  Why did they create this ad in the way that they did?  Well, let’s chat about that.

Fact #1:  Ads exist to cause people to spend money on the product.

Fact #2:  Ads are supposed to be geared toward the specific people who might want/need the product. Example: diaper ads are usually geared toward women between the ages of 18-35, who are pregnant, or just had a kid (or adopted).  I say usually, of course.

How do you get people to take notice of your particular product?  First you find out who wants/needs it.

If I’m a gourmet coffee company, who drinks gourmet coffee?  This isn’t the moment where you get judgy.  Generalities are just what they are–generalities.  It is accurate to say that most people under the age of 14 don’t drink coffee.  So I’m not likely to write a commercial to entice 6-year-olds to drink my company’s coffee.

I choose to market my coffee to adults between the ages of 17-35, who might be skaters, hipsters, artists, careerists and dreamers.*  Okay, now what?  What do those people like?  What do they value?  What do they relate to?  Who do they relate to?

These questions will help me as the writer determine how to craft my ad.  Because I know a lot about this “category” of people (I’m in it), it’s easier to imagine what they will or won’t like, and the images to which they will relate.  Of course, I also know that this group of people is EXTREMELY diverse.  I could write a funny story, like the Allstate commercials with Mayhem, or the Budweiser ad with the chainsaw man.  Or I could go for beauty and realism, like the Honda commercial about how today is pretty great.

There’s a lot of options.  But as long as I know my audience, I can move forward with my idea.

One of the harder parts of writing ads is the length.  There are different venues for ads now, which allows some companies to expand on the length.  Like Hulu.  Hulu ads can be 90 seconds long (or longer), which is on the long side of advertising.  I like them for that reason–they can tell more of a story.

I had trouble making my ad short enough and still conveying everything that I wanted to convey.  It’s about 90 seconds long, and I bet it could be edited shorter if it needed to be on TV or in front of a Youtube video.  If I make it this year, I’ll post the results.

Until then, here’s a mock ad that I made.

Longboard Gevalia Commercial Draft 2

*Just because an ad is geared toward a certain audience doesn’t mean that it won’t appeal to people outside that audience.  The special thing about the Superbowl Budweiser ad this year is that it seems to appeal to a much wider audience than they usually go for.  Keep this in mind when you write your own ad.

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 1

This was a very weird way to start my 52 weeks.  Firstly, I have an eye-infection that brought me a lot of pain the last few days.  Had to go to a doctor and everything.  That was very unexpected.  Never had one of those before.

Don’t start copying me, ya’ll.  It’s not as fun as I’m sure I made it sound.

Secondly, I picked a creative project that I have never done before.  The goal was to write and illustrate a children’s picture book.  This required the conceptualizing and drawing of over 19 pictures, partially colored.

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At the end of all this madness, I realized that designing a complete children’s PRINTABLE book was beyond my ability and software ability at the moment.  So I settled for a sorta comic-book, internet-illustrated story approach.  Some people may have a lot of experience with photoshop for this kind of thing, but I didn’t.  I didn’t even know how to import a picture into a separate project file.

But I finished the story and the pictures and the importing and combining and cleaning up and…well, I finished my first week of 52 creative projects.  And I guess it’s time to lay some ground rules:

1.  Must finish by 12am on Sunday of the week.

2.  Must accept a CHALLENGING project, not something like “draw one picture of a dude.”

3.  Must post by the following Monday.

4.  May work with others on any project.

5.  May work in area of expertise, as long as the project still offers a degree of complexity.

And here is my finished project of Week 1:  (View as a gallery.  The single-file version won’t upload at a high enough level.)

Inspired by and dedicated to my cousin, Sarah.  Thank you for Markus.

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