Friday, December 16

Lord of the Rings: Pacing

Watching The Fellowship of the Ring again on the small screen - okay, I was wrapping gifts and mostly watching - the clever pacing in Jackson's direction became clear. Watching with peripheral vision, I felt the action was slow. But in the final sequence in which Frodo sails away with the sodden Sam, the slowness became a deliberate and steady pulse, even during the attack of the orcs.

This pulse allows us to feel and think in the space of a breath before the conflict turns in another direction. Remember that all of the relationships in the Fellowship resolve in this sequence: Frodo's suspicion reaches a new anxious pitch, Frodo's acceptance of his destiny reaches new depths, Boromir redeems himself, Aragorn accepts that Frodo most continue alone, Pippin and Merry remain with Aragorn, and Sam shows he'd rather die than leave Frodo's side. And that's the end. We know where all the characters stand. We know Frodo's direction - his fears, his quest, his desire, and his lingering reluctance. The director and screenwriters created an ending that isn't an ending, a cliffhanger that doesn't leave us feeling cheated. The pulse in the pacing is genius.

I'll be looking for more of the same in Jackson's Big Hairy Movie.

Wednesday, December 14

Page 1

Take that.

Ho, ho, ho! Let's see what's in the sidebar for good boys and girls...

In a flush of end-of-year generosity to shine some light from the dark, dark Northeast, I'm adding to blog-pals over there (look right). I met some of you at the Expo or I read you regularly because you're pros or entertaining or both. Happy belated Christmahannakwanzica.


Neal: This guy does everything, and most important, sells cool merch. See not-the-Buddha. Me, too.

Fresh Hell: She lives on the frontier where game/film/TV creation is converging. In the next two weeks, this introvert is going to post something that you thought. But wouldn't admit. Or say as well.

Awful Writer: Because he had the good sense to pull together advice into the Hall of Fame and moved in with his MIL (Mother in Law) in the Hollywood Hills, which requires first great sense, then karma, and cojones. It was great to meet you, dude.

More pros and industry entertainment

The Artful Writer. Speaks for it(them)self.

Kung Fu Monkey. What can be said about Kung Fu that could possibly add anything to the Monkey?

Happy Fun Goodies!

These folks so thoroughly linked to that I'm going to spare them the insignificant traffic that might reach them from Darkness Visible. Still, I read them. Blog candy. I can quit anytime.

I find your lack of faith disturbing. Don't we all.
Query Letters I Love. Lesson: Never query the Empress.
Assistant/Atlas. Nothing succeeds like success.

If you got a lump of coal in this blogroll, send me a note. I know I met more of you than I've added here, but some of you didn't look at all like your home page.

Friday, December 9

Aeon Flux

For shame, or why sci-fi hasn't won my heart.

Flux is a great looking movie that left me unmoved, much the same way Serenity did earlier this year. Nevertheless, I think it's a pretty damned successful example of the genre. But two sci-fi features a year exceeds my quota. (Technically, The Revenge of the Sith falls into this category, but it was an opera without music, not a movie.) The emotional claim such movies make on the audience is slight. Moviegoers, especially fans, are fine with that. But I'm not.

Flux attracted me because I'm a huge fan of a great action movies. Also, Charlize Theron attracts me. (D'uh.) While action in action movies is a battle between foes, sci-fi action is a battle between moral forces, often thematic conceptions at that. Characters, even when played by strong actors like Theron, are two dimensional. The production design and locations heighten the black and white of Aeon's view of the world as a freedom fighter amped up by rage at the murder of her friend. But when the moral themes are the flywheel of the story, you want them to turn all the gears up to a screaming RPM.

The engine sputtered out in the third act, as it did for similar reasons in War of the Worlds. The twist had the same effect as the old trick of characters waking from a dream. All the desperate fighting that leads up to the breech in the city wall is moot. Nature was winning the battle while the experiment in the human petri dish called Bregna was collapsing. (In WoTW, the festering ooziness of organisms is killing the robots.) While I agree with the idea that evolution and the profusion of organisms are "smarter" than engineers or sentient robots, all that pursuit and battle leads to this revelation? You can argue that it's human nature to make such a mistake, but good dramatic structure? Not so much. Theme overtakes the story, making deus ex machina admissible. For shame.

And that is why I'm not a fan of this genre, or maybe, these three movies. The great human urge of protagonists in movies, especially in a the U.S., is that you and I could be the hero. We may just be entertaining ourselves, not philosophical speculation. But if you make a movie that leads us to believe in a man or woman's power to change the course of history, do not pull the plug in the third act. Shame! Do no raise my hopes for the likes of Tom Cruise - shame! - and the lovers in Aeon Flux, and them show me that the human race would have been saved anyway. Shame! Shame! Shame!

Monday, December 5

The Idea: Step 1 of The Discipline

Chris Kubasic taught the first workshop I attended at the Screenwriting Expo (11/13 ff.). Chris is a not-too-tall force of nature, a foul-mouthed Yoda. He rocks. For more than an hour he said, engagingly, "Have a clear idea." Does this sound too obvious? It shouldn't.

Take any screenplay you're struggling with and I'm willing to bet that there is a problem at the heart of the idea. Here's what makes me think so. Frame a movie - any movie - the way Chris did (some examples his, some mine):

- A determined police officer reunites with his wife on Christmas eve.
- A man who fears he's lost a sense of magic in his life pursues possible extra-terrestrials.
- A police chief reluctantly takes on the hunt for a terrorizing shark.
- A poor boy wins a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet his chocolate-making hero, and weird confectioner chooses the heir to his candy-making empire.
- A writer pursues a murder story that makes, and ends, his career.
- A smokejumper revenge for his murdered father.

The initial reaction to an idea is, "Huh! That has potential." The idea isn't the theme, the logline, the plot, or the pitch. It's characters and action that imply at least one very intersting story.

Since Warren has posted about his first screenplay, let me jump on. My first screenplay - the smokejumping revenge drama - was not so much writing as archaeology. I rewrote it until I'd dug up the idea. It took a lot of digging. I taught myself a great deal along the way. No complaints. But that's the the hard way. The two-year long way. (Probably the I'm-not-done-digging way.)

The test of a movie idea is: When pared down to that simple idea sentence, is it an interesting, sustainable visual story? Who wants to spend a year rewriting the first impossible 60 pages of a notion because a few imagined scenes seemed irresistible? I've already shelved one, well, "thing" that I thought was an idea, but to date, it isn't. The Idea Test acts as a scale: if it's not a movie, is it lighter (tv), heavier (novel), compressed (short story), or broad (a sketch)?

Key: Die Hard, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Capote, the first John-the-Edutainer screenplay.

Sunday, December 4

Help save the Brattle Theater programming. They paved paradise...

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

The underappreciated Brattle Theater in Cambridge MA is facing the overthrow of its independent programming because operating/real estate costs increased while audience numbers held or declined. If you've seen a great old American and rare foreign movie on the big screen, you've probably seen it at a theater like this one.

Here's what I'll do. I'm going to give a two-dollar contribution (is that queer?) for every contribution made at the Darkness Visible Brattle Theater Fundraising page. So, if you have a sense of gamespersonship, you'll contribute often. If you contribute a one-time amount of fifty dollars or above, I'll do the right thing and up my percentage.

Do it as a holiday gift, do it in honor of a friend who loves movies, do it because you remember the first time you cried in a theater. Obviously, don't feel obliged, but we're all in this together, right?