Search

Steve Makes It Up

Home of 'Nichecore' screenwriting

‘STAR TREK: Discovery’ makes the grade – and sends us back to school.

Hello friends of (and the few haters of – who choose to read this for reasons I cannot fathom. Self flagellation perhaps?) STAR TREK: Discovery! I know the internet has just been on EDGE waiting for me, the authoritarian auteur of all things ‘Trek, to weigh in on the new show.

pralor
“BUT THE KLINGONS – “

Calm down Automated Hater-Unit 571.

I wasn’t about to venture forth with a critical evaluation of the show after the premiere. There simply wasn’t enough to form a fully coherent idea of where DIS (I see DSC a lot around the conversation but I still prefer the title nomenclature that matches previous incarnations) was headed, what it meant and what its strength and weakenesses were based on two episodes. I wasn’t even sure THIS would be the week I finally decided to force everyone to read my thoughts, but after Ep. 5 I concluded that there was no longer any need to wait.

We have a winner, and its name is Discovery.

It’s no perfect game. It’s not a 300 frame. There are some fumbles, a few knock-ons and some terrible on-court technical errors, but in every way that counts Discovery delivers.

Black Alert everybody:

helm control
“GO!” – It may not be ‘Engage’ but it gets the job done.

DIS is definitely a different ‘Trek than we’ve been presented with before. We’ve had more than 700 installments of ‘episodic’ ‘Trek: Go to this planet, meet these people, either try and help them or do your best to change their way of life, then fly off and find a new planet next week. It’s been done. Sure DS9 and ENT really ran hard with the ‘serialization’ ball, but even then they still structured each episode around a particular story. DIS is the first show to move to almost entire serialization, a move that matches the current climate of binge watching and streaming TV.

What if I told you they HADN’T abandoned the episodic structure though?

spock eyebrow
A Vucan says ‘whaaaat?’

While the plot lines from the previous week definitely follow a lead through the next weeks episode, the structure of a self contained story is still present in DIS.

Premiere double-header aside – think to episode 3: “Context is for Kings”. Or ‘the return of Michael Burnham’. Much like Janeway in the beginning of VOY ‘Caretaker’, Lorca takes a young prisoner under his wing (command) and makes her an offer she can’t refuse. Except she does. Until she realizes she doesn’t have much choice. Given a chance to make the most of her situation, she opts to take Lorca’s offer and remain on board Discovery. Fitting as Lorca has been plotting something for her the whole time. The point of the episode is that Burnham discovers what choices she CAN make while her fate is still out of her control.

good good

Ep. 4, with the incredible awkward name of “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s cry” sees Burnham, Tilly and Stamets learn about Ripper, the adorable Dire-Tardigrade. This installment has a dilemma, the fate of the miners on Corvan II which only Discovery can save and the arc progresses through finding a solution using Ripper’s biology, then Burnham realizing what that solution means for our newest cos-playing challenge. By the end of the episode it’s clear that Ripper is not an infinitely powerful Guild-Navigator and that his utilization, even abuse, is taking a toll.

Reach “Choose Your Pain” and the quest to rescue Lorca and that missions connection to Ripper’s fate are their own story line again, while providing a satisfying cap to the running plot threads provided by the previous two episodes. Not entirely ‘self contained’ as ‘Trek once was, but still enjoyable as one offs.

If we compare this to some of DIS contemporaries we can see the difference.

the expanse
That looks like such an awesome ride.

I love ‘The Expanse’ (Yes I know I should read the books, and no, once the show has run its course I probably won’t – I call that the ‘Lord of the Rings’ effect – as in ‘no I haven’t read those either’ but the movies were great) It’s much ‘harder’ Sci-Fi than ‘Trek (remember the age when that wasn’t really possible to say about a show?) ‘The Expanse’ is great drama, realistic science and compelling characters. It’s also a show in great need of a binge, because without two or three lined up in a row, each episode feels a little like threads from last weeks plot just bleeding into the next week. It has that ‘Game of Thrones’ (also no longer need to read the books) thing where you love the show, but you’re hard pressed to remember just what happened in any particular episode because they all run together. If you’ve got three hours to yourself that’s just fine. Enough events go by and enough developments… develop that you’re satiated with where the story moved you to, but one episode on it’s own never seems to sustain enough drama or story to stand alone.

I argue that DIS can still do this. It’s much more satisfying to watch an episode in line with its companions, but a single episode itself is still enough to fulfill the desire for drama and closure.

So it blends in well with the modern binge/streaming model, but still carries the self contained ‘Trekness at its core.

whine
We all knew an image like this would show up sooner or later, right?

I can hear it now from people: “But the Klingons!” – “But the Prime Directive” – “But Vulcans” – “But canon” – “But that one line that an actor said in a show made fifty years ago that must be adhered to without fail forever”

eye roll
New favourite!

If that’s all ‘Trek is to some people, an ever expanding self-referential web that is only acceptable as long as no thread ever contradicts another then they have probably stopped reading this by now – And I invite them to stop. Please. You won’t like anything you read from here on.

‘Trek’s desire for continuity has been both its greatest asset and its biggest folly. Asset because it’s made ‘Trek a truly remarkable franchise in terms of staying relatively internally consistent. A folly because anyone who dares interpret anything differently from what some loud mouth fans believe to be the only possible interpretation is branded a shill of the creators and not a devotee of “True ‘Trek” (Whatever that’s supposed to be). I’m sure even now there are some people out there who claim I’m a paid hack for CBS because I won’t denounce this affront to fandom. (Believe me, if CBS was offering me any money I would TOTALLY take it – as a screenwriter getting your hands on network money is like finding Morn’s stash of latinum – before he swallowed it all).

morn
Frozen latinum pops.

I’ve been a ‘Trek fan since before TNG. There was a time when I was a screaming fanboy like many others, outraged by even the simplest violation of what I thought ‘Trek was supposed to be. It made it hard to appreciate something I used to love. Even TNG was not entirely consistent within itself. As I studied film/tv making and began my writing career, I learned just how tough it is construct a good, compelling story, even without 50+ years of rules laid down before me. Trying to keep EVERYTHING perfectly consistent is a fools errand and sells the strengths of ‘Trek short. I mean the fact that ‘Trek managed to stay SO consistent all this time is a testament to the efforts and talents of the generations of writers/researchers they’ve had working for them.

writers room
“Wait, wait. We Can’t do that. In season 5 episode 22 the engineer used a polarizing spanner to re-tune the plasma flow initiator, so by now everyone on deck 17 would have bowel cancer…”

I realized the problem wasn’t ‘Trek. It was me. I had an IDEA in my head of what ‘Trek was, and when the new shows didn’t ‘match up’ to what I thought they should be, I was disappointed. Yeah no shit. Everyone who’s a fan has a ‘perfect’ version of ‘Trek in their head, and expecting a team of writers & producers who have NEVER MET you and probably NEVER WILL to cater PRECISELY to your desires is self-indulgent bullshit.

I decided to try a different approach. I would let ‘TREK tell me what ‘Trek was. After all I wasn’t the one making it – they were. If I wanted to enjoy it I needed to come and meet on Trek’s terms, not my own. And how much I have learned since then…

This is what I mean by Discovery taking us back to school. It’s teaching us once again that we DON’T have the full picture of what Starfleet and the Federation’s history is. It was always implied that there was an epic struggle against the Klingons yet this was never truly defined. Now we’re understanding what that conflict looked like. In TWOK Carol Marcus remarks that “Starfleet has kept the peace for 100 years” We can either choose to interpret this line as meaning that ‘DIS’ IS NOT CANON or we can interpret it in the sense that the UN has managed to keep relative GLOBAL peace since its inception after WWII – even after having fought the Korean War for three years. (Or 64 years now depending on how you keep score) If the war with the Klingon’s ends before a year is over, does this one year in a century really ruin Starfleet’s record of ‘keeping the peace’? Some can say yes, and my example of the UN in our world still stands.

“Has there ever been a mutiny on a starship?” – “No Mr. Chekov, never.” This can either mean that Michael Burnham VIOLATES CANON or that what happened on the Shenzou wasn’t actually a ‘mutiny’ as Starfleet defines it. Do the rogue actions of one officer constitute mutiny in the broad sense, especially since she didn’t succeed, or does mutiny require a degree of success and coordination among multiple crew members? If anyone can find the STARFLEET (and not just the online dictionary) definition of mutiny as outlined in their regulations I would be happy to take a look and discuss.

mutiny
Crouching Georgiou/Hidden Phaser

What I’m saying is that like in our modern world, just because one person says something that does not make it absolutely irrefutable. Discovery is showing us the amazing growing pains that the Federation went through to reach the relative ‘stable’ time of Kirk’s era – a time which wasn’t really ‘stable’ at all since the Organians needed to impose a peace treaty on both sides to prevent another Klingon/Federation war – a fact that is essentially (and rightfully for stories sake I think) forgotten shortly thereafter. The Klingons went to war with the Federation for a short time in the prelude to the Dominion War, and I didn’t see any Organian’s stopping that. Best I can tell there was no ‘time limit’ on their imposed treaty so what gives? I guess one of ‘Trek’s best shows isn’t ‘canon’ by that definition.

The show takes hits for being too ‘dark’, for being so unlike the ‘positive, hopeful’ view of Humanity that Gene wanted to spread like extra-pleasant herpes. I say if that’s your conclusion you’re not really looking close enough at what DIS is doing. The entire basis of the background arc is a desire to live by Starfleet’s credo of peaceful exploration. In a wonderfully innovative spin on storytelling we are given a situation where this very concept is used against our expectations. Had Georgiou listened to Burnham then yes we would’ve wound up with a devastating engagement but little else. But I mean c’mon, as an audience we know what the deal with the Klingons is, but expecting Georgiou to go against everything Starfleet has taught her about what their mission is and what they’re doing in space is ludicrous. People bitch that Georgiou was ‘naive’ but she literally upheld the ‘optimisitc vision of Humanity’ that so many say is missing from this show.

fight the klingons
If it was her and Chow Yun Fat we would’ve had one amazing crossover fight.

Trek has a long history of Officers making questionable decisions. There’s an entire rogues gallery of Captains and Admirals who violate everything ‘Trek is supposed to stand for:

All officers who gravely misunderstood what their duty was, or abandoned it completely. Now DIS presents us with the mercurial Capt. Gabriel Lorca:

lorca
I saw him burn a barn full of innocent Ferengi once.

And rather than rushing through a 42 minute episode to judge him, we are given a chance to examine this character from multiple angles and points of view. Is he a heartless war-monger? Is he a pragmatic fatalist, exactly the kind of person you need in the most desperate hours of ‘kill or be killed’? Is he a scientist pushed to his very limits? There are those who have decided already that he is Starfleets Hitler and deserves our scorn – but a show wouldn’t be hung on one character who was so easy to dismiss. We are challenged to understand Lorca, to wonder about his motives and try to peel back the layers of a man who quite literally likes to stay in the shadows. Maybe he’ll turn out to be just like Pressman or Kennelly or Ransom, but with the limited exposure we’ve had for him, there are no easy conclusions. Maybe when DIS is over we’ll look at ALL of these characters a little differently. (Except Commodore Stocker – that guy was just a turd.)

The other flashpoint is Burnham, the ‘Mutineer’. She polarizes people like no other. “How can she think of herself as an officer? She’s a menace to everyone around her. I don’t like her.” Yeah, Burnham isn’t the poster-girl for an ideal Starfleet Officer, but does that mean her presence breaks the show? Makes it ‘Not ‘Trek?

Remember these guys?

All very compelling characters (some of them primary cast members) who were not ones to follow the rules, marched to the beat of their own drum. Worf straight up killed a guy (Durass) in front of his First Officer, and later abandoned a Starfleet intelligence asset to rescue his wife, ensuring the asset was killed. Ensign Ro Laren participated in the incident at Garon II that saw eight crew members die and she later betrayed Starfleet to join the Maquis. Julian Bashir is one step removed from Khan Noonien Singh, being genetically resequenced, a truth he kept secret for years, and then later was tempted to join Section 31. Sure Garak wasn’t Starfleet, but Starfleet was happy to make use of his talents when it suited them, and he was more crooked than a Klingon mud mask. Tom Paris was literally lifted out of a Federation prison and later was demoted for dereliction of duty. Torres never graduated Starfleet Academy quite simply because she couldn’t follow the rules. ALL of these individuals have deep flaws running through them that stain their ability to do their duty, but we accept them as characters because of the dimension they add.

What about ‘Sloan’ though? He’s the same in an inverted way. Sloan follows a very SPECIAL set of rules not required of the typical Starfleet officer. In some ways Sloan is MORE Starfleet and upstanding that many on the list, but the career path he’s chosen is one of dubious merit. Without him of course, Starfleet and the Federation would be in a much worse situation than they are with him working behind the scenes.

And let’s not forget the biggest rule breakers of them all:

Yeah. Went there.

Kirk has definitely violated the Prime Directive on numerous occasions. (Destroying Vaal on Gamma Trianguli VI is just the first incident that comes to mind.) He’s also disobeyed direct orders, and stolen a goddammed starship! Spock is almost worse in some ways. He’s commandeered the Enterprise in ‘The Menagerie Pt I & II’ and don’t feed me the ‘ends justify the means’ bullshit about him wanting to do it for Pike, he still broke the rules. Remember this exchange from ST: VI – TUC?

Spock: Mr. Scott, I understand you’re having difficulty with the warp drive. How much time do you require for repair?

Scotty: There’s nothing wrong with the bloody thing…

Spock: Mr. Scott, if we return to Spacedock, the assassins will surely find a way to dispose of their incriminating footwear, and we will never see the Captain or Doctor McCoy alive again.

Scotty: Could take weeks, sir.

That is Spock sure as shit indirectly ordering his chief engineer to falsify a report. Oh yeah, then he also “sort of” defected to Romulus for “diplomatic reasons”, to which we never really get to learn the results since Romulus doesn’t last another 30 years after that.

Good characters in drama are the ones who generate conflict with their actions. Kirk & Spock are Starfleet legends but their careers are, shall we say, ‘colourful’? As much as they are meant to exemplify the best in us, they are not the shining beacons of valiant righteousness that are needed if we want to condemn Burnham for ultimately wanting to try to prevent a war.

All out proof that DIS is working to be ‘Trek at its best?

ripper

The Officer that everyone thinks isn’t fit to wear the uniform is the one who wanted to set Ripper free. Burnham is the one who eventually forced Stamets to see the error of what they were doing, and rather than follow Saru’s orders to the letter, Stamets put himself in harms way to protect Ripper at the critical moment. In TRUE STAR TREK FASHION Human decency and empathy won out, and the ‘right’ thing was done for another living creature. This is exactly what ‘Trek is all about. Rather than spoon feeding it to us in moralistic episode like has been done 700+ times before, DIS takes the journey of showing us ALL sides of the issue, exploring it through a variety of characters in a longer form, but everything it’s doing is still ‘Trek to the core.

Sure, there are some things in DIS that I miss:

  • Warp Factors. JJ did away with these in the Kelvinverse and I was a little dismayed to see that we haven’t brought them back in DIS. Warp Drive is treated a little too much like Hyperdrive in this incarnation, but this quibble doesn’t hurt my enjoyment of the show.
  • Phasers are pulses rather than streams. I DO miss the streams. It would be nice to see that brought back, and maybe the planned ‘blending with TOS’ approach they say they plan to take will do this. Again, doesn’t hurt my enjoyment, I just kinda wish they did it the other way.

And some things that just don’t make much sense:

  • Seriously, who salvaged the Telescope off the Shenzou?
  • What was Landry’s plan? Protecting herself from a creature immune to phaser fire with a phaser rifle?
  • Corvan II processes 40% of the Federations dilithium but ISN’T behind a near impenetrable defensive line? Has no one played Star Trek: Ascension?
ascendancy
Such an awesome game…

Don’t look to closely at other ‘Trek episodes though, because things start to fall apart there if you examine them too closely as well:

  • Wait, the shuttlecraft Galileo is on it’s way to investigate the Murasaki Quasar? But a Quasar is a super-intense electromagnetic eruption from a blackhole at the centre of a distant galaxy (not our own) – they had a LONG trip ahead of them.
  • How do Kirk, Spock and McCoy get BACK through the Guardian of Forever?
  • The Excelsior encounters the subspace shockwave from Praxis’ collapse when they’re cataloguing gaseous anomalies, but when it comes time to take down Chang’s prototype Bird of Prey the Enterprise is the one with the cataloguing equipment?
  • So the transporter can just restore Dr. Pulaski’s old genetic pattern, but can never be used to do that again?
  • Quark and a bunch of Ferengi seriously manage to out-smart and defeat the Jem’Hadar AND the Vorta clone of Iggy Pop?
  • Janeway, what the fuck is a “dark matter asteroid?”

You see what I’m getting at.

I have to stop here, because this is so damn long already. But I feel my point is made to the few who stuck it out this far. DIS isn’t perfect, but it’s ‘Trek in every sense of the word, and I’m thrilled to have it to watch every week.

To all the Hater-bots out there who were just waiting to see what I had to dump on you, I assure you I won’t sign out leaving you disappointed:

scotts tears

Advertisements

QATAR SOLO! Where Conflict is King – Week 6

With deepest respects to Bill Waterson, but when that title image is literally the FIRST thing to come up when I Google ‘Conflict’ I can’t pass it up. (Not to worry Mr. Watterson, I’m quite certain I’m not making any money off this particular post – but I would happily accept the opportunity for someone to make a liar out of me…)

And yes todays title is a riff on the ‘STAR TREK: Discovery’ episode 4 title “Context is for Kings” but I will save what I have to say about DIS for my long awaited treatise on the new show to be published tomorrow. We’ll talk all about screenwriting again today, or at least as much as we can before I realize I’ve run out of things to say. Maybe we’ll even tie in as many Calvin & Hobbes shout-outs as we can.

filling space
Going out today to buy a clear plastic binder to use for turning in my new episode.

There’s always a bunch of lessons screenwriting books and online tutorials and quick-reference cheat-sheets want to teach you – and I’m going to repeat one of those now myself! Drama is conflict. Conflict is story. Story is what you do, so you’d better be comfortable mastering ‘conflict’ in your scenes if you want to be any good at this. “Well no shit dude, that’s like literally screenwriting 101.” you say to yourself as you stop reading my blog post. Fine, go ahead. Leave. Whatever. I don’t need you. I’m gonna write about ‘Trek tomorrow and get a million views and spend the rest of the week arguing with other nerds about whether or not Klingon’s shaving their heads is canon.

If you ARE still here though – well damn, now I gotta actually try and be insightful and entertaining all at the same time. Ooof. Okay – CONFLICT! Yes, drama is conflict, and conflict is what makes things interesting, otherwise the tales you tell are just people sitting around agreeing all the time and that’s not interesting at all (in this day and age it also seems a little like science fiction – people AGREEING with each other? I don’t even know what that looks like anymore…)

Across dramatic mediums there are plenty of ways to approach confict – since I’m a screenwriter we’re going to stick with that format today though, because I can speak with a touch of authority there.

write what you know
This is not at all unlike the revelation that led me to decide screenwriting was a better career path than ‘History Teacher’.

I’ve filled this space before with reference to my conversation with another writer regarding drama and screenplays, where this ubiquitous Sorkin quote always emerges:

“Any time you get two people in a room who disagree about anything, the time of day, there is a scene to be written…”

And really, who am I to disagree with A-Sork? I won’t – but my classic counter to that quote is one I’m hoping will show up in a screenwriting text book one day:

“Sure, but then you take those two people, you put them in a plane and set the plane on fire and now you have a movie.” – me (I hope)

Not here to disagree with an Oscar/Emmy winning writer, but I think we both have valid points. Let’s try a different anecdote to put things in perspective. Working on the show out here we spend a great deal of time ‘breaking’ the outlines – figuring out where we need to get our characters by the end of the episode, what beats  they need to hit and what developments we need explore in order to push the plot forward. Difficult as it sounds that’s pretty much the easy part. Once we have those basic outlines we start moving off ‘story-arcs’ and into ‘scene breakdowns’ where we figure out how each little bit proceeds into the next. Yes, essentially every TV writers room works like this, and there’s a reason for it…

garbage tv
Because as writer’s we’re lazy, lazy mofo’s…

This process lets you see where everything is progressing, and shines a light on the most important part of your story – the conflict.

“Okay, so in the outline we have our characters find the giant space-whale and climb in his mouth so they can travel to the glass palace on the moon. Check!” *

“Is that like it though? They just climb into the whale and head to the moon?”

“Yeah, that’s where we need them to be for the ACT V out. I mean dude, did you miss the part where I said IT’S A SPACE WHALE THAT FLIES TO THE MOON? Isn’t that ENOUGH for you, sinister task-master?”

“It just feels kind weak is all. Like can one of them NOT want to get into the whale, and then the others have to convince them? Maybe he’s afraid of whales because his Father used to read him ‘Moby Dick’ as a bedtime story while dressed like Pennywise?”

Boom! All of the sudden you’ve taken your boring ‘space whale’ development and made it more interesting by finding the conflict among characters. Even the most wicked-cool developments need some drama in order to be compelling, otherwise they become nothing more than cool concepts/images on screen, rather than an actual story.

happiness
See how Watterson just made conflict out of nothing? Genius.

It happens every time we reach a scene where the conclusion arrived at is: “This isn’t working.” – “We’ve got our characters to the glass moon palace now, and they go inside and kill the fat, blue moon-wookie, but it’s just not landing. It feels too easy.”

“Maybe someone wants to side with the fat, blue moon-wookie, or thinks they shouldn’t kill him because he’s the last fat, blue moon-wookie of his kind.” If it doesn’t feel right, or if people aren’t engaged, look for conflict.

I have a kick-ass low budget indiefilm screenplay I’m working on about two loser best friends who make an ill timed trip from Northern BC down to Vancouver to see their favourite DJ, and the complications that ensue when everything that CAN go wrong for them DOES. Guess what though? In all of my re-drafting out here I’ve discovered that when I’m not throwing obstacle after obstacle in front of this dynamic duo, the scenes I have of them interacting are a little flat. Sure they share rapid fire, witty dialogue back and forth like I’m trying ‘out-Smith’ Kevin Smith, but there’s nothing substantial which drives the plot between THEM. As fun as it would be to watch these two bounce witticisms about the meaning of life off each other, it makes for poor drama.

So I went back to my deepest influences to learn how you put sweet, dear best friends in constant conflict with each other:

snowball
Exhibit: Calvin

There is no question in anyone’s mind that Calvin & Hobbes are the very best of friends – yet they agree on almost nothing and spend most of their time antagonizing each other. This is how good drama NEEDS to work, and it’s something I’m paying more and more attention to.

There’s another example we can use:

I should really start using references that aren’t 30/40 yrs old…

Anyone who’s visited my site (Thanks to both of you) knows M*A*S*H still has a huge influence on me today. When talking about ‘conflict’ it’s rife with excellent examples of both good ways to achieve it, and places where they missed the mark. In the early seasons we had Hawkeye & Trapper, two nut-jobs doing their best to combat horror with comedy. Their interplay was hilarious, but they were very much ‘two peas in a pod’, both madmen on the brink. The primary conflict came from their interactions with the characters around them. Once Trapper left (to star in his own short lived TV show…) Dr. BJ Hunnicut arrived and the Hawkeye + sidekick dynamic changed. BJ was still an irreverant jokester for sure, but he was far more ‘moral’ and grounded than Trapper ever was.

What had been two frat boys making a mockery of those around them turned into a deeply satisfying comedy routine, with BJ playing the ‘straight man’ to Hawkeye’s antics. The difference in their characters, the conflict created by Hawkeye’s brand of nihilism-lite contrasted to BJ’s ‘family values’ elevated the drama and discourse of the show in a way the Hawkeye/Trapper dynamic never could. It was rare that Hawkeye & BJ were ever in direct opposition, but having two differing points of view strengthened the comedy and gave the show more to talk about.

There is strength in opposition. Our show is very ‘plot driven’ – there’s a great deal of exploring to be done in the mythology of the real world and the ‘otherworld’ where half the story takes place. It’s tempting to simply create situations where we move characters from one experience to the other, illustrating to the audience how life works in one world versus the next. If, however, that was ALL we did, take the audience by the hand on a tour of an unfamiliar world, they would change their Netflix choice pretty quickly because amazing vista’s and fascinating history work in a documentary, not a fast-paced action/drama. We are given a wealth of characters to work with and we need to find compelling reasons for them to disagree and oppose each other whenever possible.

Maybe we can try some other examples…

more angels
Don’t worry, I’m using it as a ‘bad’ example…

Everyone who knows me, knows that McG’s ‘Charlie’s Angels’ is in my top 3 favourite movies. I won’t waste space here explaining why (that fact isn’t relavent to the article) but I will use it to point out a failing in conflict. The movie itself has villains and antagonists, plenty of conflict, problems to solve and obstacles to overcome, but one thing it lacks is conflict among its three leads. When Natalie, Dylan & Alex are together, the story clips along but there isn’t much that’s exciting about what they do – they are always in agreement and super supportive of each other, so while they have an objective, such as try and beat the shit out of Crispin Glover, they don’t drive the drama themselves. I know they are a team, and a desire to depict three cooperative women who back each other up rather than feed the cheap stereotype of ‘back-stabbing bitches’ is a key element here, so it functions as it should, but it still leaves the story a little flat.

As opposed to this masterpiece:

baby driver more
If you haven’t seen it yet something is wrong with you.

Where even the characters who are on the same side, characters who are freakin’ FAMILY, have conflict. Baby lives with his deaf step-father (I think that’s how that works) and drives getaway to not only pay back his criminal debts but also support them, and they are STILL in conflict with each other. His step-father wants him to leave the life of crime, so much so that they argue (in ASL) about it and it drives a wedge between them, and these are two characters who love and care for each other. There is conflict between each character in this film; between crime boss Kevin Spacey and those criminals he employs, between Baby and Debra (in the form of Baby’s evasion and lies) even between Buddy and Darling, the psuedo-married couple who serve as muscle for Kevin Spacey.

Making one character or another an objectionable human being is a good start, but this isn’t something that can be sustained without decent character development. Remember the dramatic triangle in ‘LOST’? Jack vs Kate vs Sawyer –

jack kate sawyer
Look! They’re even forming a ‘triangle’…

 

Here were three characters, none of them ‘objectionable’ (Okay Sawyer was a charming prick in the beginning, but again that was the point) who very often stood in opposition to each other due to their motivations and backstories. For 3 years (at least, some of us poor saps stayed for all 6…) we were captivated by their interactions and machinations against each other while having a hard time picking who among them was the ‘right’ one. We couldn’t because the conflicts they shared were not clear cut matters of black & white. Forget ‘The Hatch’, ‘The Swan’, ‘The Looking Glass’ or ‘The Others’ – it was the characters on ‘LOST’ that kept us watching because every week we got to see how three different personalities would approach the same obstacle with a unique perspective. For a while, it was brilliant.

Okay seriously, you want something current? Fine:

 

narcos
I struggled for MINUTES trying to find an appropriate ‘All In the Family’, ‘Family Matters’ ‘The Brothers McCocaine’ joke and nothing was landing…

Netflix’ ‘Narcos’ does the same thing with incredible results, and I’ll use examples from season 3. (If you’re worried about spoilers, the show is based on history – Escobar isn’t in the third season, SHOCKER!) Taking cues from the ‘The Wire’ a decade previous ‘Narcos’ dramatizes actual events by adapting real life people into characters on a spectrum of gray, then forcing them to deal with each other. It’s easy to say that the Orejuela brothers are villains, ‘cuz sometimes they sure as shit act like it, but the DEA agents they have pursuing them are often depicted as being just as untrustworthy or incompetent as one might expect from a traditional foil. Furthermore the character Jorge Salcedo is depicted as one of the most moralistic of all the characters, and he’s the cartels head of security. The conflict doesn’t emerge just from the ‘good cops trying to catch bad guys’ angle – it is cultivated inside the Cali cartel itself, between the brothers, their muscle, their chief of security and their competing interests. If it was just about the cops trying to stop the drug lords the show would proceed along a rather stale A to B line, a documentary tour through facts that is as exciting to watch as ‘Ken Burns: The Drug War’… (Actually I would totally watch that – I want to hear Keith David’s smooth tones narrating a police statement about how the cartels removed peoples heads with chainsaws played over the slow pan across black & white photo’s…)

 

creative process
This explains what the other writers tend to think of my contributions…

Whenever you’re looking at your work and wondering why it doesn’t land, why people are falling asleep during your readings and/or on their phones instead, or you’ve been a victim of the ‘silent pass’ yet again after sending in your screenplay, go back in and look for conflict. If everything is clipping along fine and everyone is getting along, you have a problem. Your well oiled team of professionals needs to be pulled apart and set against each other in some way. Your uber-tight best of friends need to be set at odds by the simplest of factors. You don’t need to sow dischord where there is meant to be happiness, but you need to have a reason that two characters want different things, and let that build the drama that will make your work worth reading .

Moving the audience through your plot is one thing, and it’s important. Making them care about why they are there is the real trick. You can guide anyone from one place to another by the hand and show them pretty pictures along the way, but having them invest in the characters by forcing them to have an opinion about what one character is saying/doing in opposition to the other is the real trick. When an audience has to actively think about what is being presented to them because the characters are not all in agreeance, they are entertained. That’s your job after all, to entertain.

(* Bonus blog-points to anyone who can identify the source material for the moon whale, glass palace and fat, blue moon-wookie.)

 

QATAR SOLO! – The Fire Beneath Me – Week 5

This weeks post is gonna be a little different from the deeply intellectual insights regarding screenwriting in 50c heat. (And how ‘intellectual’ can someone be when they use ‘gonna’ in their opening paragraph?)

Today we’re going to talk about an entirely different part of the ongoing amazing tapestry that is my life. We’re going to talk about the element that keeps me going when things are tough, the important part that never lets me give up and that singular thing that makes everything I do worth it…

st disc
Bum bum baaaaaaa!

No I kid. Actually we’re going to talk about this amazing woman:

Marisa 2
Amazing because TAMALES!

My wife. My love. My life. Marisa.

I really don’t know where I’d be without this astounding Human, but I DO know that I certainly wouldn’t be in Qatar writing on a Sci-Fi TV show and following my dream. Sure, she may not have a clue about writing a TV show, or any interest in doing so, but this still would not be happening without all her hard work and sacrifice.

Most people reading this will have had some kind of first hand experience with Marisa, so they’ll have some point of reference for this outstanding person I am proud to call my wife every chance I get. Marisa is the most determined and dedicated Human I could ever dream of sharing my life with. She’s never let me phone it in or do anything less than what she knew I was capable of. Marisa doesn’t do anything in half measures. So when I come home and find her doing things like researching flights to Cambodia, I can start to pack my bags because I know we’ll be there someday soon. She doesn’t wait for anything she wants in life, she does what she never needed any over-priced self-help book to tell her do, she just goes out and gets it. Once I know her head is into something, that something will be conquered without question or hesitation. I’m certain I’ve never seen her give up on anything. It’s a hard example to follow on, because damn giving up can be so easy, but I know she’d kick my ass long before that ever happened.

Marisa 5
This man is made of brass, and thus meets her approval for strength of character.

I owe her so much. Hell I owe her the career I have now, for so many reasons. It was Marisa who came home from a career fair in Nov 2005, two months after we’d moved in together in a brand new city, with an information package on the Film Arts program at Langara College. She knew my application to Simon Fraser Cinema Studies program had been rejected earlier that year (SUCK IT S.F.U! Look at me now!) and she’d figured that Langara might a good option to explore.

Those of you who’ve heard me spin tales about how I met some of the most influential friends of my adult life know that it all started in Film Arts at Langara. I would’ve never found that program myself (I was far more Dudelike in the not-so-great ways back in the day) and the lives of Melanie, Andrew, Alasdair, Al, Heather, Ian and a few others would’ve been deprived of my charming presence. The universe would’ve collapsed and Dalek’s would’ve conquered the Earth. We all owe her a debt of gratitude for that, is what I’m saying.

It’s so much more than just her finding the school where I met (most) all of my Vancouver friends though. It’s been nearly a year since I was laid off from my very last ‘joe job’ ever, and Marisa has supported me completely since I decided to use that opportunity to dedicate my life to doing exactly what I love and nothing else. As long as the EI kept coming in and I didn’t spend ALL of it on wicked-cool T-shirts, and the house was clean and the cat walked and the dog box scooped and the dishes folded and the laundry put in the dishwasher, she wasn’t necessarily ‘happy’ because I got all of it backwards, but she could see my heart was in the right place.

Marisa 4
Wait a minute – are those FRENCH FRIES on that plate!?!?! Busted…

I mean let’s be real: She was never going to give me a free pass to be a starving artist for the rest of my life who could skate by as long as he walked the dog occasionally, but what she did was give me the chance that so many people never get – the chance to really buckle down and follow their dream. She knew the power of giving me this chance because it’s exactly what she did, and deep down inside her incredibly toned self, she knew (more than even I did) that I wouldn’t be a starving artist forever. She knew that I could get to where and who I wanted to be. She pushed me to be that person, and she was right.* She gave me the chance to work with an incredibly influential and inspiring Life Coach and never stopped encouraging me to get to where I needed to go, especially when it seemed I would never get there.

If Marisa has been a truly incredible example for anyone, it’s herself first. There was a time when she was not as happy with the physical person she was, and she went about changing that. Those changes she started 14 years ago are apparent now more than they have ever been because she now owns her own successful fitness empire. She worked a desk job like the rest of us chumps until she realized that she didn’t have to anymore. She took her life in her own hands and built everything she wanted out of it. To paraprhase the hilarious Kennedy “Not because it was easy, but because it was hard.” Marisa knew that helping others reach their fitness goals and change their lives for the better and healthier was everything she wanted to do, and she went after it with a fervor I’ve never seen in anyone.

Marisa 6
Camping shopping like a BOSS!

I spent a lot of my life believing that where I was is where I was meant to be and there was no changing that. Marisa never bought into that sad idea. She always worked to be a Daft Punk track (harder better stronger faster) not because other people thought that was who she should be, but because that’s who she wanted to be. Leading by example she showed me what anyone could be in they simply didn’t give up. If they believed in everyhing the were capable of and followed through on it, they could do everything she was doing on their own terms. My life being my own of course involved a few other events and changes that helped push me to where I am now, but none of it would’ve ever stuck without the faith this amazing woman has demonstrated in herself and in me. Faith I’m not sure was always warranted, but has paid off none the less.

And this wasn’t alwasy easy. No sir. I remember the stress Marisa felt in those first few months of working for the fitness bootcamp company; worried about her exercise routines, her relationships with the other bootcampers and instructors, her doubt about whether it was something she really wanted to be doing. Having ‘doubt’ isn’t giving up though. We are Human, we have ‘doubts’. She just did what a lot of other people don’t; she pushed through those doubts to get to where she is. Now she OWNS that bootcamp company she started working in years and years ago – and not in the sense that she could beat it in a streetfight with only her housekeys and a wits – she actually just closed the deal on owning that company this week. It’s literally a ‘from the ground floor to the CEO’s desk’ story. The next time you see her, ask her about it. She might be a little embarassed, but she’ll tell you about her meteoric rise to fame in the busy world of Vancouver fitness.

A big part of what makes this partnership called ‘marriage’ that we have is how closely connected we are, and just how different we are. I see that ‘Masterchef’ is coming back for a new season and her response is “Ugh, another show to watch…” We seriously watch like one show together. She’s often said that if I wasn’t around she wouldn’t even own a TV. In my world such a phrase is blasphemy (and is terrible for the TV’s self esteem when you say it while it’s right in the room with you) but I’m pretty sure this illustrates just how different we really are. The earthquake kit in our house has a cat-carrier for Thom, a leash for Lenny and a harness to carry the TV to safety. Priorities.

Marisa 7
The TV was at Grandma & Grandpa’s when this picture was taken.

So we both may not share a love for televised science-fiction or culinary cooking competitions, but we share a love for each other that is something else entirely. I love her for her enthusiasm, her determination, her wicked hot body and her enormous heart. She loves me for… some reasons I suppose. Not sure. I probably make her laugh or something. Definitely not because I ‘correct’ her on various facts she misinterprets  (I had to explain to her once that despite their repeated occurences in art and sculptures from antiquity, ‘Centaurs’ where never a real thing.) but there’s reasons in there I’m sure.

centaur
“If they weren’t real mister smarty pants how come that guys killing one, hmm?”

In one of the most bizarre turns of fate for anyone who’s known me since I was young, between the two of us I am apparently the ‘patient’ one. (I know, right?) She claims that I keep her grounded and stop her from flying off into the void. I’d really like to see a flow chart on how she figures that works, but when you put two Geminis together I guess theres a good chance of at least two of those four people getting along in some manner.

I love being there for her and doing everything I can to make her life easier because I can tell you without a doubt that she deserves it. She really is my partner through thick and thin and even though there’ve been plenty of times when despite our love for each other we haven’t liked the other all that much, we’ve come through when it matters. Most importantly to me is what she brings out in me. She is the fire beneath me, getting me to act, forcing me to move and demanding I reach the potential she knows is there.

Marisa is hardcore dedicated to making sure that everyone can live their life the way she wants to live hers. All of her friends see this daily. I know this because I’ve never seen her give up on anyone. If she could move everyone along to reach the heights of who they are in one fell swoop she would, but being a mere mortal (I think) she has to do this on a one-on-one, case-by-case basis. A daunting challenge, but one she is alwasy up for.

It’s not the lack of walking that’s so hard out here in Qatar. It’s not the insufferable heat. It’s not the movies edited to the point of being nearly unwatchabale. The hardest part about being out here is being away from her. So hard in fact when I was at (one of) the massive malls here yesterday and there was a guy singing ‘our song’ during a daily performance I just HAD to send the video to her – because it was absolutely ludicrous. (The fact that our song is THAT is also somewhat bizarre, but it has a story all it’s own that always makes me smile.)

Marisa 3
Look out world! One enthusiastic woman and one uninspired dog are on their way!

Like the very best partnerships, I wouldn’t be half of what I am without the love of my life. She does so much more than ‘complete me’. She makes me better than I ever would’ve been on my own. This is how I know she is the very best part of everything I do, because without her none of it would be possible. Sure I could still be a pretty kick ass guy with great hair and reasonable hygiene, but I wouldn’t be achieving my dreams the way she has helped make possible.  I owe her more than I’ll ever be able to repay. All I can hope is instead I help lift up her world the way she constantly lifts up mine.

I love you Marisa. It’s been the best thirteen(ish) years I could ever dream of, and I’m thrilled to settle in for all the rest with you.

 

*Husband’s contractual obligation to acknowledge his wife is ‘right’ at least once per posting.

QATAR SOLO: ‘The Validation Grindstone’ – wk 3 & 4

This entry has a lot more to do with writing than the last few, I swear.

Hello reader (or ‘readers’ if I dare inflate my ego a tad.) More words typed from the far side of the world, talking about the act of typing, or more likely typing about the act of typing. My reader (or readers… if I dare to dream) may have noticed that I was missing a blog post last week. We’ve done our very best to find it, but when I tried to report a missing blog post to the police they refused to take my call. (I’m not sure exactly who it is that’s screening the police’s call these days, but I gotta say they are good.)

overbearing assistants
Artists depiction of call screeners.

Truth be told (with a mix of Freedom, Beauty & Love thrown in – )

reference

I wanted to write a post last week, but I just didn’t have the time. I didn’t have the time because I was buried under a metric f**k ton of writing, exactly the reason I’m out here. So I’m not complaining. In fact I’m thrilled beyond belief to have the problem of ‘I’ve got too much writing to do’.

So I did what a professional does. I hid under my blankets for several days, played a lot of Final Fantasy on my phone and fretted about how I would get the work done in the ever shrinking portion of time I had been given.

Kidding. Kind of. I was actually very good at managing my time, if ‘very good’ is translated as I literally didn’t leave my computer for seven hours straight for several days on end in a valiant attempt to smash out the best work I could in the least amount of time. My motivation for doing this? I wanted to absolutely floor the other writers around me with the level of work I was capable of doing on an incredibly tight Star Trekkian kind of timeline. Also kidding, kind of…

You see I consider myself the ‘unproven commodity’ in this group (That’s me borrowing a term my sometimes representation back home used for me, to my face, a while back. Like the other term I’ve been called out here, ‘Vaudeville’ I’m going to wear it as a badge of honour for the rest of my career. “Created by A Once Unproven Commodity”) In this context I use it as such: One writer on our team has known the head writer for years, so the head writer had no concerns in terms of what he knew they could do. The other writer on the team has been working in Hollywood for a few years, and wouldn’t be in the position they are if their work wasn’t any good. I was the oddball, the unknown variable – And based on some of my anxiety in the first few days, they may have been a little skeptical of just what I could produce.

macross
Visual representation of the style of work that got me recommended to the job.

So I asked to go to script first. Never having really been under the eyes of working professionals before, even I wasn’t sure just where my work stood. If there was a lot I still needed to learn, or if there was a lot of ‘massaging’ that needed to be done with my style, I wanted to know early while the head-writer was still available here in Qatar (they have since returned to La La Land to administer us from afar on Google-hangouts – PLUG!) I’d prefer that kind of feedback face to face so I could determine what adjustments were needed promptly.

So I busted my ass to get everything done as fast and as quick as I could. I handed it in, and I waited to hear back.

Waiting to hear back is something every writer knows about. The benefit for me was that the head-writer was staying a floor below me on the hotel, so it wasn’t like he could disappear and forget about me for months (the way some people with your work in their hands can.) I wasn’t looking to be praised or coddled. I wanted to show that I was dedicated to doing the best job for the project that I could, and if that meant I needed to make some huge leaps in my skill level, I wanted to get started on that as soon as possible.

I won’t repeat what was said to me when the head-writer finally brought me in to talk about my work, that’s something for my biographer to listen to decades from now. I will say that the ‘Validation’ part of this blog title comes from that meeting though. There was no need for my apprehension or anxiety. My work would most certainly stand up to any of the other writers, and to most any professional writer I would run across. Sure maybe not against Sorkin, Gilligan or Weiss, but I had definitely secured my place in this job, and in all upcoming jobs in my future on the strength of my performance here. It felt pretty damned good.

500 days
It looked exactly like this.

I think more than anything (aside from being paid more than peanuts to do exactly what I wanted to be doing) this is what I was hoping to get out of this experience: A barometer of just where my abilities placed me on the scale of professionals. I was warned not to let the whole thing go to my head, and that a writer is only as good as their last script, and I BELIEVE that whole heartedly. I don’t think I’m the type to let some good news completely warp my self perception, and the only real satisfaction I take from hearing things like that is the knowledge I can do this again, and again, and again. I could’ve come out here and discovered that while I was ‘pretty good’, I still had so much growth to do that my hand needed to be held through all the difficult parts, but that wasn’t what happened.

I’ve worked real damn hard for years now, crafting a style that’s my own; Punchy, fast paced, fun to read and unique, while at the same time being recognizable, understandable and not off-putting. It’s clear I’ve succeeded. And I’ve learned some important things from the professionals I share the writer’s room with daily: If what you put on the page is clear, understandable, and clean to read it doesn’t really matter what your ‘style’ is (as long as you still format it correctly).

My scripts are always full of SFX cues done up with ” *’s ” – *BANG!* *KA-PWING!* *RATTA-TAT-TAT*. I don’t know where I took that from, and dare I say I suspect I may have just coined it myself, but the head-writer said he thought it was a really great way of working in SFX without having to write up ‘SFX’ every time. For the sake of keeping the formatting in the show’s scripts the same we removed the asterixes, but I was encouraged to continue with that format in my own work. I finally came to understand that the ‘rules’ we’re taught for screenwriting are more about getting everyone on the same page for how screen-stories are told, rather than a codex on how to write the ‘perfect script’.

better books on fire
AHAHAHA! Take that, stock image of Robert McKee’s book! – (apologies to Robert McKee, I still have so much to learn)

If I want to get anywhere I need to stand out, get noticed, rise above the crowd, pee into the wind – wait… no. Not the last one. But the others. I spent some time in the last year working on a project or two that I thought would be money earners, but I wasn’t passionate about. Guess where those got me? But when I held a reading for something I loved writing and then used something else I loved writing as a reference, I found myself with this job. I know that this business feels like it’s more ‘who you know’ than how talented you are, and there’s no denying that making contacts and being easy to work with goes a very long way, but having something to say and a great way of saying it is just as important. There’s no doubting that I’m lucky as holy-shit to be where I am, as this job could’ve gone to any number of skilled writers who happened to know a certain director, something about the timing and the way it came about pointed it at me, and I was not going to waste it.

Because luck matters. Luck matters big in all of this. There’s a trick to luck though. You can make your own. You can’t do that by design or by rote or by will, but you can make your own luck by practice. If you have one ‘absolutely magical’ screenplay that you farted out of your unicorn butt as a flawlessly perfect first draft that deserves to be made by the greatest artists, so you will only show it to the most skilled and priviledged, you’re gonna have a real hard time finding it the ‘luck’ it needs to get anywhere. But if you have a dozen screenplays on their fifth rewrites being read by friends on their spare time, entered into competitions and performed out loud in group readings, you have a much bigger ‘net’ to catch your luck. Writing is rewriting (says the guy who HATES proofreading his posts before they’re published…) and work gets better with every iteration. HAVING work to read is also a plus. Writing samples are a great deal more useful than anyone would ever think.

Screenwriting isn’t about your inspired idea being able to surpass all odds and get made out of the blue by a magnificent artist. Screenwriting is about hustling, hustling, hustling. Hustling yourself, hustling your work and MAKING people notice you. I know this, because I spent a LOOOOOONG time waiting for my truly unique and intelligent ideas to be appreciated for what they were, movie gold. Guess how far I went with that attitude?

stranded
You (me) waiting for your incredible idea to be noticed.

It was only after I gave up on how awesome I thought I was and instead started to really focus on the craft that I started to get somewhere. In this case ‘somewhere’ felt like a rally car stuck in the mud, but eventually those wheels found a tiny bit of traction and my rally car took off, barely missing the foolish spectators who line the road of all those rally races.

herbie
Full disclosure: Everything I know about rally cars comes from ‘Herbie’ movies.

I stopped thinking my ideas were special and started thinking that what I was doing was a skill that needed practicing. I could still write my wicked-cool screenplays with my awesome nichecore characters and concepts, but I needed to be able to show that I was more than just a presumptuous, entitled artist. I needed to show that hard work was what was taking me places. Now those who know me (and have employed me – sorry dudes, seriously) in the past have known that ‘hard work’ wasn’t exactly something I was much into at all…

far out man
Me, being told I’m ‘not quite cutting it’ at work.

That was, until, I found out that I had the REAL potential to actually make something of this screenwriting thing. One person I need to give super mad props to regarding that is my amazing, inspiring, ever suffering (of me) wife. She has never let me hide behind a lack of desire to achieve. Sure it took her nearly a decade of prodding and ultimately connecting me with a (super wicked cool)  life coach to get me there, but we eventually did.

Once I realized that I could do the work, and in doing the work I could get my concepts the attention they deserved, everything started to change. I still haven’t sold or optioned any of my nichecore epics, but I’m a lot closer now than I ever was before, when I was waiting to be noticed for my perceived genius. If you think you yourself are a screenwriting genius, put in the work, get in the hustle, and prove it to yourself so you can prove it to the world.

QATAR: OUT!

QATAR SOLO! – Moonbase 2029 – Week 2

Greetings readers! Steve reporting from moonbase 2029 here (an ambitious goal, a base on the moon by 2029? I know, but if Pumpkin-McLadygrab can become president with fewer votes than his opponent then anything is possible…)

“Don’t mess with us Steve” I imagine I hear you all saying. ( “You’re in Qatar, not on the moon. It even says so in the blog title.”) Sure, ‘MOON SOLO’ doesn’t carry the same wicked connotations of Edward Van Halen on the six strings, but I have an explanation. I always have an explanation.

eddie van halen
I refer the jury to exhibit E, an image of Dr. Van Halen at work…

I’ve come to the conclusion that the writer’s on our lovely project out here are the perfect case study for living on a future moonbase/space station. Forget those wacky Russian’s in Siberia training in a replica space capsule for a roundtrip to Mars. Writing on a Qatari TV show is a true experience in environmental isolation and long distance travel.

“S’plain how!” You demand. Okay, but why so aggressive? You can just ask nicely. There are several days every week where I never leave the safe, climate controlled confines of Moonbase Wyndham. The environmental conditions are simply too extreme outside to permit it. I would melt faster than a chocolate you forgot in the front pocket of your new white pants.

wyndham pool
Atrociously harsh conditions.

IF I do dare venture outside, it must be done either in excursions short enough to be supported by a severe change in wardrobe (Eddie Bauer wicking travel shirts? Buy stock. Immediately) or in the Uber or Taxi class travel pods which are readily available. There are no locations nearby that are suitable to visit without the technological support of a fully equipped environment suit, so if you want to leave the confines of moonbase Wyndham you are only heading to OTHER artificial environments with appropriate climate controls (and ample shopping.)

avatar mall
True pioneers are prepared to make do with only the barest of resources.

As lovely an experience as this all is, for a simple man from Earth who considers anything within an hours range on foot ‘walking distance’ it is quite a shock to the system. I see the my headphones sitting there, wondering why I keep them locked away in the safe all day. “What did we do to you?” They plead in the tinny voice that headphones have. “Why have you forsaken us? Are our lows not deep enough, our hi-hats not crisp enough?”

headphones
Truly a walkers best friend.

Seriously, BEST (reasonably affordable) HEADPHONES EVER.

No headphones; I love you like I love my wife, my dog, usually my cat and last but of course not least, the ‘Trek. But there is so little opportunity for me to use you here because it is physically not possible to pack enough shirts to wear on a long enough walk where your beautiful tones will be useful. (Note: distances here are measured in how many shirts I will sweat through to reach a desired destination. Headphones are really only applicable to a minimum two shirt walk, and once you get into any really suitable distance – say a four shirt walk, you’re just packing too much cotton fibre with you for the exertion to enjoyment ratio to balance out. MATH!)

Apparently when the Earth tilts just a *tiny* bit more to the north, the unending, blaring heat of the savage day-star will abate enough to permit travel outside in the three-to-five shirt radius, but we are not there yet, and I am skeptical at best.

So inside we sit, and inside we stay. The spa here is wonderful, (wait, a spa? With a sauna? Yes. For some bizarre reason I choose to stay inside sheltered from the heat yet spend some of my time sealed in a little wooden box that gets infinitely hotter – actually reality is it probably gets JUST as hot as outside – and sweat for fun. Explanation? I have none.)

tiny sauna
Here at the Angsana spa, you don’t have to go outsdoors. You can trap yourself in a tiny replication of it!

…and I haven’t yet tired of the expansive breakfast buffet – shout out to Jamal and Mary Jane – Holla! – the lovely foreign workers who seem to run the buffet, at least everytime I’m down there. I’m sure they read my blog. Who doesn’t?

Nobody asks you, people who don’t read my blog.

We pass the day arguing about how a team of fictional characters would go about joining a terrorist cell (“Dude, I get the impression you have NO CLUE how to go about joining ISIS. Maybe you should go read twitter and we can reconvene when you’ve had some experience!” – Not a REAL conversation we’ve had, yet… But close.) and discussing which North American food chain we should hit up for dinner. We watch Game of Thrones for examples on how to keep a multi-layered story full of characters whose names we can never keep straight progressing forward, and we make each other watch movies that one person loves and the others have never seen.

Made my compatriots watch ‘Human Traffic’ last night.

human traffic
Yeah the quotes are in French. Gotta respect both official languages…

I presented it as a glimpse into a period of my life from 19-24 that had a huge effect shaping the person I would become. After watching it I regretted exposing them to such wanton hedonism and actually feared somewhat for my own soul. I still LOVE the damn film, but man does it not-really-go-anwhere. One of those films that’s more experience than cinematic masterpiece. I digress…

That soundtrack though…

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, moonbases and shit. Today we ventured off-base to fulfill a screenwriting stereotype; writing on laptops in a Starbucks. It was a welcome change of pace mostly, but I’m a little weary of the folks around us wondering what the hell was wrong with the white people who seemed to be arguing real hard about just how you would leverage making someone dig their own grave as a form of interrogation. But these are the kinds of things you need to make believable if you want viewers to come back week after week to watch your show. Accuracy in interrogation and torture. If you can’t get it right, what’s the point?

dig own grave
See? We’ve obviously failed ‘cuz he’s enjoying this too much.

Saw a film in theatre’s here earlier this (last?) week – truth is I can barely remember what day it is anymore and I have several devices literally connected to satellites, atomic clocks and calendars to tell exactly what time it is. We saw ‘IT’ in a local megamall, and I can definitely say its worth seeing, all 90% of it that we witnessed. No, we didn’t walk out because we were scared (we all agreed that was our story and we’ll take the truth to our graves) but it was pretty obvious that the film had been ‘edited for content’ based on cultural sensitivities..

It’s been explained to me that Qatar itself doesn’t censor movies and TV, however they do not have their own distribution infrastructure so all of the media they receive comes from other sources in the surrounding territories, and I’m not sure if everyone is aware, but some countries in this neck of the globe have some curious ideas about what is acceptable viewing and what is not. **SPOILERS KIND OF** A seven year old kid having his arm bit off by a demon clown? Sounds good. Two fourteen year old kids kissing? UNACCEPTABLE! Also, apparenlty there was a Jewish kid in this movie. If anyone can tell me what his story was it would be appreciated, because he was essentially removed entirely from what we saw. Child murder = still fine. Jewish kid = not existant. Yeah I know there are some places over here that equate those two things, but to quote the eloquent ‘Million Ants’..

million ants
“Hey, you do you. I’m not touching this.”

The concensus is we’re not sure we’re going to spent more money on seeing movies in the theatre until we return. The edits were so obvious and jarring it made us wonder if locals actually knew EXACTLY what missing, and had become skilled at filling in the blanks themselves. “Hey, there’s a giant rocket ship shaped hole cut out in that thing. I wonder if I’m missing a slice of pie?”

To all those executives/directors/layman who think that screenwriting is a cinch because anyone can do it – HAHAHHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH! You fools. Not to type about how awesome I am, but I can say with 100% certainty that screen/teleplay writing is MOST DEFINITELY harder than brain science/rocket surgery, climbing Everest and passing a kidney stone all at once. (Note: not currently prepared to test my certainly not inaccurate claims.) I don’t know how sitting or walking around a room for eight-ten hours a day, thinking up wicked cool things to say and do, and then writing them down can be so perpetually exhausting, but it is. I’m running off a costant drip of adrenaline and utter fear-of-failure as we speak, punctuated by brief moments of hallucination and psychedelic lucidity.

psy brown
Marty! I dreamt I saw Denny Crane kicking me in the face and I fell into a pool of lava while John Laroquette watched!

I had a dream the other night that I was back at home, and the fact that I didn’t remember getting there was because I’d had a stroke and suffered brain damage. My subconscious is finding new and innovative ways to seriously fuck with me because until I woke there was NOTHING in the dream that the stroke couldn’t explain away, to betray I was dreaming. It’s hard to get used to the idea of living your life with nothing making sense, and then waking up again only to find that things only make so-so sense. Like I’d been playing ‘ROY’ too long and no one bothered to to tell me Blips & Chitz had closed for renovations.

roy the game
I got my high score by burning down the carpet store for the insurance money.

Needless to say this extended experiment in creative isolation is both taking a toll and inspiring me to new heights. For those who were there for the read, they’ll be happy to know I’ve entered ‘Diesel Wars’ into two pilot competitions, TWO!, so within the next several months I should be a pretty big deal because I mean seriously, two competitions? C’mon that’s practically a lock. In between fits of blending arabic mysticism with cutting edge Sci-Fi I’m finding time to read some work and sort out my own, so there’s always an up side even when things seem a little rough.

More reports from moonbase 2029 to follow in the near future. Until then keep watching the SKIII’S!

skis in space

Google has never let me down.

Qatar Solo! – The First Week

Is HAWT. Oh gods is HAWT. How hot is it? today was 37, but that doesn’t factor for 100% humidity. So it feels like 50 degrees. (I’m able to convert most things into ‘American’ for my American co-workers out here, but when it comes to degrees I just refuse. Your ‘Foreignheight’ system is just too weird..) But not to worry! Tomorrow it will be – 39. Oh. Today was the COOL day…

so hot moses
It’s so hot Moses…

Wait, 100% humidity? Aren’t you in a desert? Yeah, that’s what I thought at first too. But lo and behold it actually seems that I’m in some bizarre Matrix simulation where not only do we get desert heat, but we ALSO get full humidity from the proximity of the Persian Gulf, which surrounds this whole peninsula of a country. Every time I leave the hotel, there is a single, blissful moment before my nerve endings completely register where I think “Oh okay, this isn’t so bad…” Then the impulses reach my cerebra cortex (or whichever cortex it is that processes this, I’m no brain-scientist) and it’s back to “HOW THE F**K IS IT THIS HOT!?!”

Doha is definitely one of the most unique places I have ever been. We’re kept locked in a windowless basement for seventeen hours a day writing, so we don’t get much chance to explore (may or may not be ‘Fake News’) but there will be more of that in the months and weeks to come. What I have been able to suss out since I’ve been here though:

  • It’s hot.
  • There’s no grass, just the hardiest of moss.
  • When it comes to white people, we are the weakest colour on Earth, based on our ability to function in the heat. Seriously, every construction worker here is a foreigner from Africa, South Asia or the Philipines and they work ‘I don’t know how many hours a day’ outdoors, in this heat. It’s ludicrous.
  • In Qatar you can’t:
    • Drink
    • Show physical affection in public
    • take photo’s in malls
    • Gamble
    • Keep random stuff you find (must be turned into a Police ‘Lost & Found’ otherwise 6 months in a Qatari jail for you, if caught)
    • (as a male) be in an elevator alone with a woman wearing a Niqab

Today, the mens washroom outside our Writers Room/Conference Room was out of service, and the initial reaction from my Los Angelino co-writers was “Why don’t you just use the women’s washroom?” To which my reply was abject terror and a very slow head shake ‘No’. They understood quickly. I held it.

But you know what else? Everybody here speaks english. All the signs are in english and arabic. And everyone is exceptionally deferential & polite, both Qatari’s and foreigners. (As a note, the ratio of foreign workers to actual Qatari citizens is like 14:1. No seriously, go look it up.) All this accomodation of English/westerners kinda feels like ‘hand-holding’ sometime.

Because this whole place is geared towards westerners feeling welcome. Westerners CAN drink (in the select few bars you can find, if you dress appropriately and show them your passport) and westerners are not held to the same dress codes as workers or citizens. (Though apparently the ubiquitous male ‘thoub’ is only a cultural affectation and not actually a religious garb – same for the niqab/burka. Go fig…)

thoub
Wondering if they make one in ‘Dude’ size…

Apparently it is also super affordable and very well suited to this hell-baked landscape (no offense intended Qatari’s but c’mon, why on Allah’s green Earth do you live here?)

This place is also essentially crime free! However when they threaten to lock you up for not turning in someone’s lost iPhone, I can understand why.

Much like Che in Cuba, pictures of the Emir are everywhere:

emir

Apparently this is part of the diplomatic crisis currently ongoing between Qatar the rest of the Gulf states. So the story goes (as told to me by our Qatari host/show creator) Saudi Arabia is trying to spin the narrative that the Qatari people are dissatisfied with Emir and his reign. In response most public buildings and businesses have hung huge banners of this image on their exteriors as a kind of middle-finger to Saudi Arabia.

(Oh what, you didn’t know there was a diplomatic crisis ongoing in the Persian Gulf right now? Yeah, living here you woudn’t know it either…)

Doha is a place of remarkable beauty, set in a harshly gorgeous landscape. Imagine Vegas without booze, drugs, prostitution or gambling, and you have Doha. For instance:

vegas nightdoha night

Yeah, it kinda IS hard to tell.

We writer’s have only checked out the nightlife once so far, but I know that will change as the time goes on and stress levels skyrocket. You can’t bundle up four creative minds tasked with generating stories in a layered fantasy world behind the walls of a hotel for very long before someone stabs someone elses eyes out. The head writer is one of the most diplomatic people I have ever met, while at the same time being the first person to use phrases like “I hate that, and here’s why” or “Convince me, please.” Or what seems to be his current personal favourite “Explain to me what I’m not getting here.” I can barely fathom the amount of work this guy does, based on how much work we do.

Because let’s not forget, I’m here to work. And I’m definitely earning my pay. Caught the requisite traveler’s cold the other day, which left me in pretty bad shape yesterday. The kind of shape that were I in any job, I would’ve stayed in bed. (Hell, in most other jobs illnesses of much weaker intensity have kept me bed ridden) but I LOVE what I’m doing here too much to miss out. We spend eight hours a day (or more) breaking story, delving deep into mythology and trying our damndest to put together the most intriguing plot lines we can. Then we wait for the showrunner to drop in and cut the knees off everything we’ve done for the last half day. I’d say it’s frustrating, but it’s exactly what the job is, so frustrating isn’t the word. Challenging is. I’m here to write and create, and that’s what we do, all day and all night (when we aren’t in the sauna or hot tub)

Gotta say though, I’m a bit of a hayseed out here compared to my co-writers. One of them has credit on the upcoming SAW reboot. Another is a Harvard grad and accomplished actor/writer in he own right who says that the Winklevoss twins were unfairly portrayed in Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’ (she knows because she was there back then, and also knows the Zuck) The charming lady killer here has a history of writing credits and was once the personal assistant to Gwen Stacey (or whoever it was who portrayed her). Whereas when I talk about my experience with celebrities, all I can really dig up is that I once sold ‘The Age of Innocence’ to Forest Whitaker – which led to this sad exchange:

Head Writer: “Wait, you sold an adapted script for ‘The Age of Innocence’ to Forest Whitaker?”

Me: “No, I handed him the DVD he was looking for in HMV.”

forest whitaker
We’re still tight to this day.

But I do my Canadian best to essentially not be Canadian: I try to not attach a long preamble to the beginning of everything I pitch that sounds like “Okay, just throwing poop at the wall and hoping it stains, no attachment here…” or “Not wanting to talk over you or anything…”

kanye
Note: this blog does not in any way endorse Kanye beyond meme form…

But it’s hard.

But not hard enough that I want to quit, or leave, or anything like that. I love what I’m doing, and that’s entirely the point. Is this experience easy? Hell no. But does that matter? Not at all. I couldn’t be more pumped being here everyday, knowing what I’m getting up to do. I’m surrounded by wicked cool people doing wicked cool things and I revel in every minute of it.

Out here I really am part of the ‘ground floor’ of a new industry in Qatar, and it’s up to us to make sure that ‘Medinah’ (That’s the show, don’t google yet, give us some time…) is the best sci-fi show we can make it. There’s a ton of talent out here flowing like… well there isn’t any water here… so talent flowing like… ‘sand dunes?’ maybe? Except sand dunes move pretty slowly… Look I just have the immense pleasure of working with some fiercely creative minds on an incredible expansive project, and I would not trade it for anything in world (anything except a private villa where Marisa & the fur babies could join me, but none of those three could handle this summers heat back home, I’m at a loss as to what they would do out here)

More to follow in the weeks to come dear reader!

In the meantime, if you don’t have a stranglehold on your dreams, chase those fucker’s down and throttle them into submission yourself! No ones doing it for you, but no one’s stopping you either!

Let’s talk ‘canon’ and STAR TREK: Discovery!

A daily occurrence I find myself confronted with is an ongoing Facebook battle with supposed ‘Trek ‘fans’ who are bound and determined to shit all over everything Star Trek: Discovery, still weeks out from the shows debut.

Sure, I could just scroll on by when I see phrases like “This show is going to fail and kill Star Trek with it.” or “This show is being made by greedy producers who have no idea what ‘Trek is supposed to be” and my personal favourite, “The writers are just lazy, going back to the Pike era. If they had any talent they’d go forward, not backward.” I could scroll on by, but that robs me of the opportunity to bring my incomparable ‘Treknowledge to bear and utterly destroy those nay-sayers with observations steeped in facts and canon. If someone wants to express an asinine opinion about Discovery (hereafter DIS) they are of course free to do so, but then I am also free to express my intense mockery and harassment if their opinion is more “feels” and less “facts”. In my world, you’re not entitled to any opinion, you’re entitled to an INFORMED opinion. And if you aren’t informed, prepare for ridicule!

spock eyebrow
I believe the Human phrase is ‘Bring it on’.

This brings us to one of the most heated debates of all as we await DIS: How it fits into (or supposedly violates) ‘canon’. Typically I don’t provide definitions or synopsis of things (I trust that my audience is informed, see the benefit of the doubt I give you!?!) but for the sake of this discussion, let’s set our goalposts. Using just a single Google, the internets tells us that canon is:

“A general law, rule, principle or criterion by which something is judged” and “A collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine.”

In this case, the longstanding rule of ‘Trek is that if it appears on screen, it’s canonical, meaning it must be considered as accurate and relevant as anything else officially seen on screen. Every TV episode and every movie are canonical in the ‘Trekverse. Anything else; books, comics, fanfic/films, roleplaying and video games are not ‘canonical’, despite most often being based entirely on canonical material. This permits the creators of the shows and movies to stick to the most commonly absorbed material (more than 720+ TV episodes and movies at this point*) while not having to study all the auxiliary materials.

giant spock
Even I have a hard time canonizing Spockzilla.

[* – The Animated Series, TAS, is the only exception to this rule, as Roddenberry himself expressed that he didn’t want TAS considered canon because of the content of some of the episodes produced. Most of fandom accepts the stories from Spock’s youth featured in the TAS episode ‘Yesteryear’ as canon, and similar cherry-picking of important bits occurs throughout that series. This includes the ‘Antares’ class starship, which was alluded to in the TOS episode ‘Charlie X’ yet never seen on screen, but was shown to us in TAS. When it came time for the TOS remasters, the TAS Antares was modeled and inserted into the remastered episode, retroactively making the TAS vessel canon. I personally think MOST of TAS can be considered canon, and that which I find doesn’t fit I simply ignore, it’s not hard.]

Canon is important to ‘Trek because for more than 50yrs a great deal of effort was made to ensure that all of ‘Trek occurred in the same universe. At first canon was not so important, as it was seen as possibly being detrimental to the debut of TNG. If they were hamstrung by needing to stick to everything TOS established, TNG could never grow as it’s own show. But by TNG’s debut in ’87 the world had already seen 3 seasons of TOS, 2 seasons of TAS and four films, all of which stayed within the continuity of each other rather well. Not perfectly, but well enough for the tradition to continue. Continuity and canon in ‘Trek really took off with the arrival of DS9 in ’93, a show running concurrently to TNG, which needed to make sure that what it established for the universe didn’t contradict what TNG & TOS had already set out. Because ‘Trek is ostensibly about ‘our future’ the notion that shows happening in the same universe along the same continuity should fit together was perfectly reasonable at the time, and by and large still is now. Eventually ‘Trek movies ‘Generations’ through ‘Nemesis’ stuck to this (mostly) and VOY did a good job of incorporating what was already established into its own framework (and setting VOY 70K lightyears away from all the other stories was another decent way to dodge having to  make sure everything matched flawlessly.)

google galaxy
Recalculating route: You will arrive at your destination in 172 episodes…

This was compounded by ‘Trek visiting itself, particularly the DS9 episode ‘Trials and Tribbilations’ which inserted DS9 characters into the TOS episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’, effectively cementing the notion that everything occurs in the same universe. The VOY episode ‘Flashback’ went further by giving us a story that occurs during the events of ST: VI, of which we were unaware until this episode decided to shine some light on that time.

kirk meet sisko
Two captains, one chair. FIGHT!

Then ENT came along and some ‘fans’ became upset with what were seen as canon violations. Now I love all ‘Trek, but even I will admit many episodes of ENT have their problems, especially in the 1st & 2nd seasons, but those problems are typically story issues. There are some incongruous canon elements in ENT as well, but since they fit ‘Trek’s canonical requirements (appears on screen) a way must be found to reconcile what appears to be errors with the ‘factual’ ‘Trekverse record. “Romulans aren’t supposed to have a cloaking device until TOS ‘Balance of Terror’ even though a warbird equipped with one appears in the ENT episode ‘Minefield’ – Answer: It was a prototype, and being secretive as fuck, the Romulans managed to keep the whole thing under wraps for more than a century. Archer probably filed a report on the incident and the technology, but of course, at the time Starfleet was encountering new, dangerous races and enemies on a near daily basis so it’s no surprise that knowledge of this single encounter with an unknown species technology became lost in the archives.” See, it’s easy to apply a logical explanation to a canon issue that permits both pieces of canon to technically be accurate, even if they contradict each other. The ENT writers/producers realized their mistake, and when the Romulans appeared again at the end of season 4, we don’t get any cloaking devices. So while things aren’t perfect, nothing here violates canon in any appreciable way.

romulan warbird
Pay no attention to the warbird behind the curtain.

This also explains the ‘Kelvin timeline’ from Abrams ‘Trek ’09 and onwards. Wanting to ‘reboot’ ‘Trek after forty years seemed like a non-starter for most fans (I personally wouldn’t’ve minded myself, the originals all still exist, but whatevs) so instead they used a tried and tested ‘Trek staple, time travel, to open up a new universe where they did not need to adhere as closely to canon, as events would follow their own path in these new films. Like them or hate them, Abrams Trek films do a good job of sidestepping canon issues while remaining internally consistent. The Enterprise and crew have been time travelling since the 4th aired episode ‘The Naked Time’, so this is an amazingly familiar and versatile approach.

So now we reach ST: DIS, and people are whinging about all sorts of things they see as violations of canon. The uniforms don’t match those worn by the Enterprise crew in the ‘The Cage’. The ships look too much like Kelvinverse ships or ENT ships. The bridge is too shiny. The Klingons look different. “EVERYTHING IS WRONG” they declare, shaking their tiny fists at the stars. “Don’t these people know ANYTHING about Star Trek!?! I’ll never watch this show!” An empty threat, I’m sure. Peeps said the same thing when TNG was announced, and folks lost their minds over how ‘un-Trek’ DS9 was at first (now regarded by some – me at least – as the greatest of all ‘Trek shows…) So people complaining about ‘Trek isn’t a new thing, but frankly I’m fed up with it, because most of the complaints are asinine, petty and in many cases, uninformed.

picard facepalm
We all knew I’d never make it through this article without using this at least once, right?

How so you ask? Let’s look at some of the most grievous offences.

UNIFORMS:

Point of contention: This uniform from DIS –

dis uniform

doesn’t mesh with these uniforms from TOS ‘The Cage’ –

cage uniforms

On first glance, sure, seems like there’s a significant disconnect here. Should I run to FB and pound out my outrage, or should I look a little deeper?

riker janeway
Someone looks interested in ‘The Full Riker’.

Oh ho, what’s this? Two Starfleet officers from different ships/assignments, in the same time period, wearing two different uniforms!?!* Why who cut together this absurd – oh what? That comes from a CANONICAL source, the VOY episode ‘Death Wish’? Go figure. So now we have canonically established that Starfleet crews can utilize variations in uniforms across different assignments at different times. Sure we never saw any other uniforms in the Pike era, but we have seen that it is not out of the question that different ships might have different uniforms at the same time.

[* – Some will argue that Riker & Janeway were put together by Q in this episode, and that it’s possible that Q changed the uniforms for… reasons, but this is not borne out by the episode. The writers go out of their way to establish that this is in fact the real Riker, and not a Q illusion. Q even says he will erase Riker’s memory before returning him, so as far as the episode establishes we are to accept that this is the real Riker, in his real uniform.]

STARSHIP AESTHETICS

Some people have issue with this:

shenzhou
Shiny…

Existing in the same time frame as this:

constitution class
Swoon…

And yeah, I’ll admit there’s a difference in aesthetics between the two, but we know the Constitution class was a very special endeavour by Starfleet, among the first of its truly independent exploration heavy cruisers. It’s no surprise to me that vessel designs and aesthetics following this lineage:

nx class
Also swoon…

would still be in service 100yrs later, (I mean, the Excelsior class was in service for more than a century, and it didn’t exactly match the design lineage of other ships from the same era) Moreso, it’s not difficult to understand that Starfleet’s latest and greatest achievement, the Warp 8 engine, would be built into a bright, new design that tries to step away from the older, utilitarian appearance. Starfleet and the Federation want to put their best foot forward with ships leading their quest to ‘Explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, and new civilizations’. They aren’t sending the functional work-horses on this mission, they’re presenting their sexiest, flashiest take on a starship to wow the rest of the galaxy.

excelsior
Oh yeah, those two look exactly alike. No variation in aesthetics here…

THE KLINGONS

dis klingons

Here’s the greatest point of contention, and I admit I can understand how some people might be trepidated about the new appearance of the Klingons. I don’t agree, but I understand. In order to put this in perspective, let’s look at a few things:

klingon evolution
All top of the line models; they can talk!

 

First, any ‘Trek fan worth their latinum knows that the Klingon makeup has changed over the past 50 years. When ST: TMP arrived in ’79, larger budgets gave the production team the chance to make Klingons look truly alien, as opposed to being sun-loving folks who didn’t trim their eyebrows. For the next 25 years ‘Trek fans simply accepted that the appearance of Klingons changed with the advancement of makeup and budgets. In the previously mentioned DS9 episode ‘Trials and Tribbilations’ Worf even gives the issue a nod by stating, when asked why he doesn’t look like the Klingons on Deep Space K7, that Klingons “Don’t like to talk about it.” It was a funny bit of fan service, and everyone was in on the joke. And let’s not forget how this issue was compounded by the guest appearance of three TOS era Klingons in DS9, with the modern makeup.

kor koloth kang
Kang, Kor and Koloth!

Until ENT S4, when one story arc about Eric Soong, the Eugenics wars and super-human augments was rolled into a story about Klingons attempting to recreate the same in their genetics. When this went south, a genetic disease was unleashed on the Klingon population that destroyed their distinctive head ridges. It was a nice way of using an ENT story to explain away this difference that fans simply accepted out of course.

Apparently that was the worst possible thing Manny Coto and the writers on ENT S4 could have done for some fans, because it codified the idea that any visual inconsistencies within ‘Trek SHOULD be explained away. It unintentionally handicapped anyone who wanted to make aesthetic changes in the future by solidifying the notion that ‘Trek’s canon is static, and not evolving.

But here’s the thing: Canon is only useful as long as it serves the story and the production. To adhere to it unequivocally and without flexibility is to miss the point of why canon is there in the first place.

Remember this guy?

odan
“Have you heard the good news about the worm in my belly?”

Ambassador Odan from the TNG S5 episode ‘The Host’. He was a Trill ambassador who surprised the entire Enterprise crew when he revealed he was actually a symbiotic being, a host body for a helpless, long lived symbiotic organism.

Now what about her?

trill makeup

Also a joined Trill, but no weirdo head bumps, only super-sexy body spots. What gives?

Well believe it or not, this was the original makeup for Terry Farrell as Jadzia Dax:

odan makeup
Apologies, my camera was on the fritz so I took this image with an orbiting potato.

Original Trill head bumps and all. Now that’s canonical. What the hell happened? Who screwed the pooch and fucked up canon so bad on this one?

The writers and producers. They wanted the fascinating story elements of the joined Trill, the symbionts and the characterizations these would add to Jadzia’s character, but they hated the way the (even reduced) makeup changed Terry Farrell’s face. So they made a decision: Trill were no longer head-bumpy guest aliens, now they were Human’s with cool spots. The original Odan makeup was fine for the guest actor of the time, but the producers wanted to maintain the aesthetics of their talented actor, and made a change. Last I checked there was no army looking to crucify the DS9 producers for making a production choice about this appearance. In this case, the pressures and requirements of production necessitated this change.

But everything else about the Trill stayed the same. The symbiont was the same, the mechanics of the joining were the same, the potential complications for Trill’s becoming friends and intimate with non-Trills were the same. As far as story canon was concerned, everything was the same. From there on, all Trill were body-spot people, and the head-ridge Trill never made an appearance again.* There was also the need to explain how the Trill were a mysterious fringe species in TNG, but apparently were a widely integrated part of the Federation for centuries in DS9. Curzon Dax himself even served as a Federation ambassador to Qo’nos for decades prior to being re-hosted in Jadzia. For the sake of expanding the mythos and enriching the story, changes were made to canon.

[* – This is the currently the holy grail of ‘Trek retconning to me. I’m still formulating an occam’s razor-esque in-universe explanation for the divergence in Trill appearances. My current theory involves a Trill splinter species and outcast symbionts, but that’s for another article.]

Or what about this: How does this guy –

old cochrane
“That’ll do, nerd.”

Turn into this guy?

young cochrane
*Not in frame: A ghost.

They’re both accepted as Zefram Cochrane in ‘Trek canon, but they look COMPLETELY different. The in-universe explanation (provided by fans, not the show itself) is that the Companion being that rescued and cared for Cochrane after his shuttle crash morphed… his appearance… because reasons… Yeah. It’s an acceptable explanation as it’s vague enough to cover the issue, without introducing any new elements. Yet even this issue was further canonized by ENT when they mention that Zefram Cochrane did indeed go missing near the end of his life. If we’re to follow the approach of the nay-sayers, once Glenn Corbet passed on in ’93, the character of Cochrane should’ve never been seen again, since he would look different, and the writers should’ve been forced to leave this character out, rather than write ‘First Contact’.

double facepalm

This is an example of the handcuffing effects of canon. Most individuals in the Industry, in production, realize that for the sake of making a good story, canon is a guide, not a restraint. Where canon matters most is keeping the story consistent. If Picard’s mourns the anniversary of his father’s death one week, we can’t have him sending a message home to Dad next week. That’s what canon’s purpose is, to keep story elements consistent, not to discourage innovation and progress in a visual medium designed to entertain. Star Trek is one of the best franchises in terms of keeping its canon straight, and I often feel this effort has bred a terrible entitlement into some fans. Talk to a Gundam fan about canon and continuity and they’ll laugh you off, considering how many conflicting story lines, arcs and interpretations there are of Gundam in its own universe. ‘Trek fans are spoiled rotten compared to those counterparts.

gundam crossover
Did someone say ‘crossover?’

In the ‘Metamorphosis’ & ‘First Contact’ example with Cochrane above, we can see canon being employed properly, instead of fanatically. When we first meet Cochrane in TOS, Spock addresses him as ‘Zefram Cochrane of Alpha Centauri’ which was just fine until ‘First Contact’ where we learn Cochrane is a Human from Earth. This is an obvious break from accepted canon at the point in time the movie came out, but ‘First Contact’ is widely regarded by many as the best of the TNG films. There’s an old phrase in the Industry, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Without the retconning of Zefram Cochrane being from Earth, we would be without a whole chapter of the Trekverse experience. Canon was even aligned by ENT when they drop the line that Zefram Cochrane went missing after leaving his retirement home on Alpha Centauri. Rather than forgetting about the character completely, and his incalculable contribution to the Trekverse, because the actor who played him has now passed on, circumstances are changed to suit the story, and corrections are made after the fact. In this case Zefram Cochrane is still the inventor of Earth’s warp drive, and he will still become the man trapped on an asteroid in Gamma Canaris by the 2260’s. Canon was made to work FOR ‘Trek, not the other way around.

companion
“Stay with me forever, bad optical effect.”

So back to the Klingons. The Klingons aren’t the Trill, they’ve had a much more consistent history throughout the show than other aliens, and are the backbone of so many stories and events that it’s impossible to sum them up here. But some things we do know about the Klingons: Honour is good. Honour is used to justify essentially anything and everything in Klingon culture, the way Vulcan’s appropriate logic and real-life Human’s pervert religion. They are a warrior-heavy race that eschews most modern medicine and science beyond that which advances their aggressive ambitions. They are divided and united by the familial houses they are born into, and follow an authoritarian social structure.

‘Trek has spent 50yrs creating this back story, and now it looks like the Klingons are about to get another amazing reinvention. Roddenberry always wanted the Klingons to be more alien after the end of TOS, and ST: TMP gave him the chance to do what he always wanted. Then for 30 years the Klingon’s pretty much stayed the same, visually. Sure a certain writer/producer, Harve Bennett and a certain director, Leonard Nimoy may have completely fucked with the Klingon canon in ST: III when they gave them a ship called a ‘Bird of Prey’ (a reference originally used for the Romulans) as well as giving them a CLOAKING DEVICE, which was NEVER Klingon technology, until it was, but we as fans also forgave that pretty quickly as well, didn’t we? ‘Trek has altered and retconned canon as needed for decades, and the new show will function no differently I’m sure.

more klingons
2nd year Romulan is a very challenging class at Qo’nos High, especially with all 3 dialects…

Now I’m the type to avoid most spoilers and ‘leaks’. I’ve seen the DIS trailers, but that’s it. I don’t read much about it and I don’t go searching for details, because I want to be surprised when the show comes around. But I have heard through the grapevine a bit about the Klingons; how we’re seeing a physical disparity based on differing Klingon houses, how these Klingons are a more isolated off-shoot of the empire, and so on. When TNG came around and gave us Worf, we watched the Klingons change from sinister villains to complex characters. The same thing happened with the Ferengi when Quark took centre stage in DS9, and again to the Borg thanks to Seven of Nine on VOY. Now we’re being given the chance to go even DEEPER into one of ‘Trek’s longest lasting adversaries, explore their society even more than we have before and learn new things not revealed to us. The fact that the Klingon look has progressed again is also a great opportunity. They wanted to make the Klingons look more alien once 38 yrs ago, and now we’re being given that chance again. And let’s be real, these Klingon’s aren’t purple with tentacles and three heads, they’re still ruddy skin, head ridges and attitude. As long as they are still Klingons, driven by honour and aggression, preferring hand-to-hand combat over ranged weapons and confident to a fault, they’re fine in my book, because that’s what canon says they are. If DIS tries to give us Klingons who are servile, money grubbing fools, then yeah I’ll have a problem too. But that’s not what I’m seeing with the new show and the new look. I’m seeing Klingon’s looking cooler than they have in a very long time.

stupid klingons
Watch ‘Discovery’! Help eliminate Klingon poverty. MQGA!

When ENT starting exploring T’Pol and the Vulcan’s, a lot of fans felt the show was not respecting canon. Many of the Vulcan’s behaved in a far more self interested, un-enlightened manner, despite the trappings of logic still being apparent. Soval is much more of an arrogant prick than any Vulcan we’ve encountered before, and the Vulcan Dr. Yuris helps us understand that in the 2150’s, the all classic Vulcan mind-meld is considered a disease. It seemed that they had got the Vulcan’s ‘wrong’. But then in S4 we are given a multi-part story arc about the teachings of Surak being re-introduced to Vulcan society, and how this changes the Vulcan’s into the more stoic individuals we know from TOS onward. Rather than simply treat them as a static species that haven’t changed since the great awakening, ENT adds layers to the Vulcan’s we never knew were there. After Tuvok in VOY, most probably thought the Vulcan’s were about as explored as we’d get in the show. Thankfully they were wrong. They are a dynamic species just like Human’s, with conflicts and difficulties that continue to shape their culture throughout time. Had canon been adhered to without fault, we would never have had this insight into the Vulcan’s, and missed out on some fascinating stories.

vulcan dj
From Archer’s brief stint as a Vulcan DJ.

I believe we’re looking at a similar situation with the DIS Klingons. The writers and producers have looked through 50yrs of Klingon history, synthesized what we DO know about the Klingons thanks to canon, and determined where we can learn MORE, where there are more stories to tell and where the Klingons can be developed into even more interesting characters. And to boot, they get to look extra cool. If they still act like Klingons, behave boorishly and rude, then they are still adhering to the canon accumulated over the past five decades. We know of the great houses of Martok, Mogh, Duras and others, how wicked-cool would it be to see just how DIFFERENT each house really is, how the culture and style of each is a unique signature, rather than the same plastic body armor everybody wears. Moving the Klingons away from the typical ‘Trek monoculture and into a much more diverse arena is an inherent good, both for aesthetics and storytelling.  ‘Trek has changed the looks of aliens before to suit the story, with excellent results and without disturbing the larger universe that we all know and love. It can’t be stressed enough, ST: Discovery is a TV show, and a TV is an art form (commercialized or not) and art needs to have an aesthetic quality thats appreciable, like it or not. Anyone dealing with art and aesthetics will tell you that if you spend 38 years (or more) going back to the same well of images you will become old, stale, irrelevant. Updating the ships, the look, the Klingons, while staying true to what canon says about the story is not just an option for a new ‘Trek show, it’s an imperative to be competitive in the modern entertainment market.

jake sisko writing
Remember, poor Jake Sisko never saw a dime for his work.

Canon isn’t about slavishly adhering literally to the visuals that came before. Canon is about keeping the story consistent for the fans, while giving the writers and producers a good foundation to work from. If you want canon to be adhered to without question or rationale, you’re missing the point entirely, and even ‘Trek may not be for you, considering they tweak their canon as the story requires. As. The. Story. Requires. That’s the key here, because ‘Trek isn’t a collection of sterile fake facts, ‘Trek is a storytelling universe that lives, breathes, and changes with the stories in it. ‘Trek spoils its fans by doing an excellent job of sticking to what has already been established, but also needs to maintain the freedom to tell a good story, and as any writer can tell you, being literally chained to what came before is no way to be creative. And ‘NO’, that’s not a ‘challenge’ that good writers should be able to overcome, because with 700+ episodes of ‘Trek already behind them, so much has already been done and explored that being a slave to all of it turns your stories into travelogues of a fictional universe, rather than compelling tales of morality, ethics and the Human condition. Everyone who isn’t a writer thinks that concocting a unique, intriguing and unpredictable story is easy as shit, and anything they don’t like is the fault of a lazy writer ‘only in it for the money’. Those in the know understand that this is so far from the truth it would be laughable if it wasn’t so pervasive. (Especially the money part…)

I won’t have the arrogance to pretend I know what’s best for ‘Trek. I’m completely satisfied with allowing DIS and its creative team to tell me what their ‘Trek is, rather than me demand they conform to my sensibilities. That’s called pandering, and any fan worth their spican flame gems will say they don’t want to be pandered to. Canon is a tool, not a straight jacket. And I can’t wait to see what new canonical revelations Discovery brings to the table.

picard relax
Just waiting on Discovery…

 

 

3 things wrong with every screenplay

You’ve done the hard work on your screenplay: You’ve plotted, written, and rewritten it to as close to a near death experience as a screenplay can achieve, and yet it’s just not there yet. When those few amazing folks who actually DO read screenplays get back to you, they don’t have the kind of feedback you need. “How was it?” – “It was good.” – “What do you mean by ‘good’?” – “You know, I liked it.”

dude with russian

“It was far out, man…”

Rarely do we struggling screenwriters ever get the kind of feedback we need; someone to tell us just how badly we pooped the bed and where. Most people who read screenplays aren’t screenwriters, so they don’t have the insight needed to break the truth to you.

I can break that truth to you right now in three points, and it isn’t pretty:

(Or ‘What are the three things wrong with every screenplay?)

 

#1) No Inciting Incident.

Simplest mistake most screenwriters make. Depending on what source you subscribe to (and whether or not you’re a time traveller) the ‘inciting incident’ should appear no later than pg 12, ideally on pg 7, and in this modern era of Michael Bay edits and trick openings, some argue it needs to appear on pg 3. But what is it exactly? The inciting incident is the ‘call to action’ from Joseph Campbells’ assessment, only it applies to your whole story. The ‘Inciting Incident’ needs to mark the change from ‘regular, everyday life’ to the story your screenplay is telling. Without the inciting incident, the story doesn’t get moving, because there is no story to tell until it has come to pass. Princess Leia loading the Death Star plans into R2-D2? Inciting incident. (Without it, the Tantive IV is captured, the plans are retrieved, and ‘Rogue One’ was an ultimately pointless endeavour)  The (original) Ghostbusters encounter with the Library spook? Inciting Incident. (If not, they’d never have the ‘confirmation’ and data they need to prove that their ‘ghost catching’ theory can be applied to real life). In Die Hard, McLean’s choice to go to Holly’s work rather than meet her at home is what sets off his participation in the whole scenario = Inciting incident.

 

The inciting incident needs to be something that clearly defines where the change from the protagonists normal routine to the story you are telling occurs. In discussing a script with a client recently, we were trying to sort through where the inciting incident was in his script. He needed his protagonist to move from not having accesses to the resources he needed to having access to those resources and getting started on his quest. I told him that gaining access to those resources WAS his inciting incident, it just needed to be handled in a cinematic, interesting way. The client suggested that the protagonist could receive a phone call, letting him know he had access to those resources. I did my best to let the client know that unless it was the MOST EPIC PHONE CALL in movie history, that wasn’t going to cut it in terms of piquing the audience (and the readers’) interest. Simply having someone in your story say ‘Okay, go!’ isn’t enough for an inciting incident. The audience needs to know that after the ‘thing’ that starts it all, the protagonist’s world will never be the same again.

leia R2D2

“Wait, it says you’re rebooting. Okay, just need to complete these 74 adobe updates and then the inciting can begin!”

 

#2) Trying to do the Impossible

Working on a horror/thriller with another filmmaker. Got to the point where we needed to start developing the villains in the story, and my colleague became sidetracked by the notion that the villains shouldn’t be ‘villains’. They wanted to create richly three dimensional people whose actions were driven by deep seated motivations and beautifully crafted character moments. Great idea, great intention, wrong genre. When it comes to horror/thriller’s, the villains are integral, but not in the way the main-body characters are. My colleague wanted to place a dramatically developed set of villains into the story, yet wondered why they weren’t meshing with the horror world we were trying to create. Villains require thought and depth, for sure, but they need to operate as per the genre you’re working in. If they’re as three dimensional and sympathetic as the protagonists, what you probably have is a drama, not a horror/thriller.

Working on another crime feature with a writer/director, I learned that it was their intention to ‘switch’ protagonists by the third act, turning who you THOUGHT the protagonist was into the antagonist, and raising a supporting character to the protagonist role. When I asked the writer/director if they could think of ANY examples from existing films where this kind of approach worked, they weren’t able to produce any. (Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is the only example that comes to mind, and this writer/director was no Hitchcock.) This isn’t about telling writers not to be original, far from it, but it IS about making sure they understand the structure and boundaries of what they are trying to do. If you want to make a horror movie, make a horror movie. If you want to make a cop drama, make a cop drama, but don’t try to make it the most ‘thoughtful, in depth examination of the nature of horror between human and monster’ if that’s not what the story is really about. Know your style, know your genre. People upend the status quo when they strike upon something truly unique and inspirational, not when they set out to show everyone just how creative they are. Cliches exist and work for a reason. Use them.

pony death

“Then Rainbow Dash claimed the EVIL Allspark, and knew from that moment her desire to make the greatest pie in the world for her dying mother could not be stopped by mere mortality.”

 

#3) Your Protagonist sucks

Seriously, they probably do. Creating an intriguing protagonist is easily the hardest part of any of this, not because people can’t do it, but because they often don’t realize they have to. I finished a TV pilot a short while back that involved a very much ‘fish out of water’ protagonist with a big secret in their backstory. The main idea was to keep the audience guessing until the 3rd episode reveal of the protagonists big secret. I was so proud of how I interwove the ‘truth’ of this character versus the deception of the feint I was trying to employ, and I awaited praise for my amazing talents from my readers. The result? Turns out my protagonist was the LEAST drawn of all the ensemble. My attempts to keep details mysterious/hidden left the character feeling flat and empty. A great friend of mine pointed out that if the audience KNEW what the big secret was from the start, even if the other characters didn’t know, that would go a long way to generating tension and suspense in their interactions. I was sabotaging exactly what I was trying to do, thinking I was being clever.

But how did I get to the end of a 74 pg TV pilot without realizing this? My protagonist participated in action, drove the plot and made critical decisions all exactly where she was supposed to.  The story that happens around her is big, bold, full of action and peril, but the readers didn’t connect with her. Because I, the writer, knew what her deal was, and I saw all the ways she interacted with the other characters and plot, I completely missed the fact that others who don’t know her deal couldn’t connect with her. I thought my protagonist was the bomb, but she still needed work.

I see this problem, and the flip side of a totally boring protagonist, very often. Scripts that come from ‘a big idea’ or ‘a theme I really want to talk about’ usually have the ‘boring protagonist’ problem: Because the story is so much more about ‘what happens’ rather than ‘who it happens to’. If you’re Star Wars, it’s easy to get away with a boring protagonist (Yes, Luke Skywalker is NOT all that interesting. He’s a whiny farm kid who gets caught up in galactic politics. Good thing everyone and everything else around him is pretty damn amazing, because otherwise the ‘Luke Skywalker: A Star Wars Story’ movie would be a true snore. Now if you’re writing something that involves space-travel, laser weapons, rich world building and space-magic, you can probably get away with having a somewhat dull protagonist. But even THEN, you should STILL try, because you’re doing your work a disservice otherwise. Story comes from character, and if your character is a throwaway or not really important, then your story is probably the same. If the character is interesting, the audience will be on board with almost ANYTHING you want to do.

luke sucks

Just think of Jordan Belfort in ‘The Wolf of Wallstreet’. He’s a greedy, womanizing, profiteering criminal, but the audience loves him. Why? Because he’s interesting. Because we all know someone like him, who will take all the credit and reward but never their share of the responsibility or blame. He doesn’t let the world of high-finance tell his story, he IS the story. What about the ‘The Narrator’ in ‘Fight Club’ (Spoiler alert: The Narrator is Tyler Durden. Ed Norton is Tyler Durden.) He’s a useless, hopeless schmuck, yet the audience relates to how comfortably pathetic he is, especially in the beginning. He is the true ‘everyperson’ the story needs, and is captivating in how much he wants to change his life, without knowing anything about how to do it. How about Ellen Ripley in ‘Alien’? She’s a career crewhand like the rest of her co-workers, but while John Hurt and Yaphet Kotto argue about how much they’re going to make from their latest haul, Ripley is concerned with protocol, following the rules. Normally this would NOT be the sign of an excellent protagonist, but when compared to the other cast membes, Ripley’s moral compass stands out. (And if they had all listened to her and kept Kane, Dallas and Lambert OUTSIDE the Nostromo Lander for 24 hours, the alien would’ve never made it inside and the entire franchise wouldn’t exist – unless you presuppose the events of ‘Prometheus’ have already happened, in which case…)

 

Even if the rest of your film is terrible, the audience will remember a good protagonist. Take time and care crafting yours. You won’t regret it.

Was this unbelievably helpful? Head on over to the Screenwriting Services tab on my website and find out what OTHER kinds of help I am happy to provide.

Writers conquer the world, one story at a time.

BABY DRIVER & GLOW: The FUN is back!

Quick – Desert island, all time, top three favourite movies:

  1. Ghostbusters (1984) – There’s just no question.
  2. Charlies Angels (2000) – Shut up. It’s an awesome movie. I’ll write a blog about it one day and prove it.
  3. L.A. Story (1991) – With a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes it seems this film is being appreciated more and more as it ages.

(You would think the request itself would imply that High Fidelity should be on that list, but it just doesn’t have the cojones to stand up to those three power-houses)

What kind of snap, blanket, stereotypical judgements can we make from a list like this? They’re all comedies, pre 9/11 films. Two were written by the main actors. Two are ensembles. One has Richard E. Grant (swoon!)

richard e grant [He’s wearing a scarf and dgaf about it. That man is STEEL.]

In my mind at least, there is ONE factor that truly unites those three films: They’re all ‘FUN’. Uproarious, hilarious, high-paced Eff-You-Enn FUN! Ghostbusters is one inept scientist and his overachieving friends (also scientists) who use quantum physics to capture ghosts. It is equal parts scary and hilarious, and contains some of the most epic ad-libs and improvisations ever captured on film.

Venkman: Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole in your head, remember that?

Spangler: That would’ve worked if you hadn’t stopped me.

hole in the head

Ad-libbed. At least Ramis’ part. Hi-fucking-larious. Ghostbusters is a film that never takes itself too seriously, at the same time as it demands to be taken authentically.  It’s humour, special effects, frights and action all rolled in to one. Most fun I ever have sitting to watch a movie.

Charlie’s Angel’s, though?

Charlies angels.

Kinda in the same vein, except this is a film that makes sure you know from the opening sequence that you CAN NOT take it seriously. You will be very disappointed if you do. McG’s Charlie’s Angels is pure spectacle, and it never apologizes for this. It contains characters with comically complicated personal lives whose independent actions actually shape the course of the story, yet is dismissed as cheap action fare by most. It makes great use of music (ensuring that no film ever again will be able to use The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ on a soundtrack without invoking THIS scene.), stages several incredible action sequences and is thorougly enjoyable from start to finish.

L.A. Story?

roller skates in museum

Steve Martin demonstrates the ONLY way to visit a modern art museum. I mean seriously, what else do you need to know about this movie, other than Richard E Grant is in it, it features an intelligent freeway sign and has Sarah Jessica Parker in arguably her greatest role? It’s great. It’s 27 years old. Watch it.

‘FUN’s is my hallmark, it’s what I look for in my entertainment, because by my reckoning, entertainment is for enjoyment, and enjoyment is fun.

In the past I’ve pitched a few stories and concepts to people, and one of the bits of feedback I continue to get is “That sounds a little too ‘fun’ for what we’re looking for.”

Que? REALLY? Who’s pitching these ‘dull’ ideas that are apparently so desirable? I’m not sure about most everyone else, but I definitely don’t pick a movie thinking ‘Good, this’ll be a nice and boring time.’ (Okay, maybe I had that in mind when I went to see ‘Tinker/Tailer/Soldier/Spy’ and I was not disappointed. Love that movie BTW, but it’s about as far away from ‘Fun’ as one can get.)

Maybe it’s my idea of ‘Fun’ that’s the problem. I know some people prefer reality over fantasy. I know some people like deep, heartfelt stories over spectacle. I know that some people simply don’t identify with fringe characters, creative plotting or excessive editing. I feel bad for those people.

I spend a great deal of time talking with other writers and wannabe filmmakers (and a few REAL filmmakers) shooting the poop and talking movies/TV 24/7. Talking about a script the other day, I pointed out that this gritty, reality based crime drama needed a showdown, a scene where the anti-hero and the antagonist finally came together for some sharp dialogue, perhaps while stalking each other through the dark at the end of guns, in a factory of smoke & flame?

The response: “It’s not meant to be THAT kind of movie.”

What ‘kind’ of movie is that exactly? Another writer made the pitch to me the other day (which comes from Mamet or some other such skilled writer) that to simply have two characters who disagree, that makes your scene, that is drama. To tell a convincing story inside that construct, two character sitting across from each other, having a disagreement, is truly dramatic. I reply with ‘Yes. Now put both of those characters on a plane, set the plane on FIRE, and you have a movie.’

It’s called a ‘Motion Picture’ for a reason. It needs to move, it needs to be kinetic. It needs to have a life beyond dialogue. Of course there are exceptions: ‘Glengarry/Glenross’ is a fantastic examination of the social male heirarchy and of the capitalist whitling away of the dedicated worker, told almost entirely on one set through dialogue. ‘Hard Candy’ is similar, an almost-play staged as a movie. And these are both fantastic films.

Fantastic films with a small reach, small audience and small objectives. In my world, story, drama and character are BIG things. Big concepts, big emotions, big actions.

Hallelujah for what has come to us.

poster baby driver

If you haven’t flocked with the masses to the theatre to see ‘Baby Driver’ yet, you are a disappointment to me and every filmmaker who wants to entertain with fun and humour. This movie is AMAZEDOGS. Go and see it. Seriously.

…(waiting for you to see the movie)…

Wasn’t that GREAT!?! It’s a high paced adventure from start to finish. Every character is memorable in their own right, every scene carefully crafted to match the chosen song, and every stunt is real. It’s easily my most favourite movie of this year, and the best time I’ve had at the theatres all summer. I personally live a world with a constant raging soundtrack, and I’ve always envisioned this translated into the films I write. Everything has music in mind, a beat or mood that permeates beyond just filling the soundtrack. In ‘Raptor Pink’ Astrid raids a Human trafficking operation in a stunning spectacle of militarized poi and gymnastics, all while blasting Madeon’s ‘Icarus’ in her ears and on the soundtrack. ‘Monogamish’ opens with a beautiful dance number set to FUTURECOP!’s ‘Superheroes‘ that still warms by heart. And I have epic plans for Dance With The Dead’s (feat. Kristine) ‘Power‘ in the BRIDGEHEAD prequel series. Treating music as an integral element of the plot, rather than window dressing after the fact, always gets my attention.

‘Baby Driver’ came from visionary brit Edgar Wright, a man who has consistently produced hilariously entertaining fare, at least in my book. ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is a modern classic, and  ‘Hot Fuzz’ should be. ‘Paul’ is better than it deserves to be, and ‘At World’s End’ is highly underrated. Now he’s topped himself with a salute to humour, action and all the fun intensity of why we head to the movies. ‘Baby Driver’ isn’t weighed down by overwrought themes. It’s not saddled with a deeply tortured protagonist faced with an impossible choice. It’s about heists and driving very fast through Atlanta. There is romance between Debora and Baby that is so believable and yet still dramatically presented, because I pretty sure nobody in real life meets and courts the way they do.

The movie is about enjoying your two hours, and does that by providing you with a compelling plot, interesting characters and a heavy dash of motion picture spectacle, beacuse when you have the chance to be exciting AND dramatic, you’ve made yourself an excellent film.

how is he not Han Solo

And I mean seriously, look at Ansel Elgort. HOW IS HE NOT THE NEW HAN SOLO!?!?! Everything about him in this movie just SCREAMS that he’s a no-good smuggler with a heart of gold. Somewhere along the line somewhere, a casting director missed their big chance.

Which brings us to the other side of this coin:

GLOW

One of the newest arrivals from Netflix is also one of thier best. ‘GLOW’ doesn’t plummet down a dramatic rabbit-hole the way another female centred Netflix show (OITNB *cough*cough*) has tended to do. GLOW thrusts the audience into the 80’s and demands that you enjoy yourself. It achieves this by generating truly entertaining and unique characters, building a stylized enviroment for them to interact in, and then lets the story unfold.

“You mean, like this?”

the getdown

Whoops, sorry. That description also fits my OTHER favourite Netflix original. It’ll get it’s own post once I’ve finished it.

‘GLOW’ is a comedy with dramatic leanings, for sure, but the drama is never the primary motivator. Alison Brie’s Ruth Wilder is a fantastic protagonist because we both want her to succeed and we feel comfortable laughing at her failures at the same time. Ruth takes herself more seriously than anyone, which serves as a kind of effective innoculation against sillyness in this title.

Because let’s call it like it is: Wrestling is pretty silly. I’m not disrespecting the performers, they do things on a regular basis that would kill most typical humans and I completely respect the effort and skill they put into their performances, but it IS a little silly. The stereotypes, the soap opear stories, the insane aggressive bravado. Even in calling it ‘silly’ I’m not trying to slight it, merely place it in context with my ideas of storytelling as a whole. GLOW gives the audience the chance to be part of a well structured and hilarious journey through the world of professional wrestling, while also providing social commentary on how women are treated now versus 35 years ago.

heel

I mean, make no mistake, but GLOW is about standing up for women’s rights, women’s empowerment and their fair share in the world. GLOW plays off the social inequalities of the 80’s using a modern perspective in a way that lets the audience laugh at the ridiculousness of sexism and bigotry, while making sure it’s understood that these are forces we all combat, even today.

But it tells this tale with colourful outfits, hilarious mismatching of characters and ugly developments meant to pull at our heartstrings. Unlike OITNB there are no darkly dangerous moments, no real threat to life or limb. The characters move from one difficult situation to another, but there is a sense of enjoyment and ease that follows them. GLOW has a lot to say, and uses its sense of ‘Fun’ and adventure to make sure we never find that story too heavy.

So FUN is back. And I am thrilled by this. I want to see more and more titles move in this direction. We labour under expansive cinematic universes and grim storytelling, full of horror, pain and duplicity. Sometimes it’s great to be able to sit down, ready to watch something, and be excited for the ride we’re about to take. Like a roller coaster.

Imagine a play performed where the audience is on a rollercoaster? Now THAT would be something.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑