Production is exhausting. Getting up before the sun rises and working all day, it’s brutal. So the scene you’re writing, the one that’s going to be shot that day, it has to be worth the trip. It has to be worth bringing 200 people out of bed, and into the Canadian winter to create something. It’s hard to envision that when you’re at your desk, so far removed. You just write off a scene and say, oh well, it’s a dry, necessary scene. But shooting that dry, necessary scene for 16 hours in the winter… it’s awful. You have to be excited to shoot it. Because if you’re not, and you wrote it, then certainly no director, or cast, or 200 crew members are going to be excited about showing up.
The Get-Up-At-5am Test, from Justin Marks
I don’t listen to rap music very much, but even I can tell that there’s something unique about Macklemore. The other day he visited a college student in the hospital who had just been diagnosed with leukemia. He wrote about the visit on his website.
These types of experiences are important for me. They bring me back to a place of gratitude and give life a tangible value, beyond the instant gratification that my job provides. Being a rapper is one of the most narcissistic careers in the world. You are surrounded by yourself: interviews, Twitter, Facebook, Billboard charts, YouTube plays, shows, the crowds, awards etc. Fame suffocates the spirit and consumes you if you let it. You wake up thinking about you, and go to bed thinking about you. That’s not a good place to be.
With over 200 shows booked for the year, I barely get to see my family and spend time with the people that remind me where I come from and what’s really important. Getting outside of myself, even for an hour, and doing something like meeting Sam this afternoon gave me a small opportunity to be of service to someone else. I am able to realize that my problems are NOTHING compared to what him and his family are going through. And hopefully the visit made his day a little better and got him through another 24. That’s what matters in the end.
Well, both. Inspiration is what creates the spark of an idea in the first place. Inspiration is what keeps you interested in that idea, as characters, plot points and emotional climaxes occur to you one by one throughout the writing process. Inspiration keeps you afloat as you face draft fifteen of the first episode, or yet another notes meeting with a totally different group of execs to the ones you met last time, all of whom have contradictory ideas.
But inspiration is like love – you don’t *feel it* all the time. The wild flush of emotions you feel when you fall in love aren’t supposed to last through a fifty year marriage, and the first flush of inspiration won’t last through the writing of a novel or a screenplay either. But that’s fine. They’re supposed to be replaced by new emotions, a new and evolving relationship with the loved one – or the script.
As long as it is full of self-sacrifice, the initial infatuation will always grow into a stronger, more mature love.
The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”
There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.
Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: What to do with the pieces? Some people hunker down atop the local pile of ruins and make do, Bedouin tending their goats in the shade of shattered giants. Others set about breaking what remains of the world into bits ever smaller and more jagged, kicking through the rubble like kids running through piles of leaves. And some people, passing among the scattered pieces of that great overturned jigsaw puzzle, start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again.
Michael Chabon, from a review of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom
In 1962 The Christian Century magazine published C.S. Lewis’s answer to the question, “What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?” Here is C.S. Lewis’s list:
1. Phantastes by George MacDonald.
2.The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.
3. The Aeneid by Virgil.
4. The Temple by George Herbert.
5. The Prelude by William Wordsworth.
6. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto.
7. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.
8. Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell.
9. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams.
10. Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour.
[From the June 6, 1962 issue of The Christian Century]
reblogged from CSLewisWeb.com
Sweden is a scary place. In the light of a recent catalogue from Top-Toy, Northern Europe’s Toys’R'Us, the Atlantic published this article on gender equality in Sweden.
Swedes can be remarkably thorough in their pursuit of gender parity. A few years ago, a feminist political party proposed a law requiring men to sit while urinating—less messy and more equal. In 2004, the leader of the Sweden’s Left Party Feminist Council, Gudrun Schyman,proposed a “man tax”—a special tariff to be levied on men to pay for all the violence and mayhem wrought by their sex. In April 2012, following the celebration of International Women’s Day, the Swedes formally introduced the genderless pronoun “hen” to be used in place of he and she (han and hon).
Ironic bumper sticker of the week: It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.
THE HUNGER GAMES, CATCHING FIRE, MOCKINGJAY
I started writing this post back in June when I finished the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy. Based on the testimony of my friends, I expected the series to be full of violence, despair, and hopelessness, and while all three elements were present (in copious amounts), what I didn’t expect was the amount of heart in the story. I don’t think this is the greatest sci-fi/fantasy series of all time—I don’t even think it will last more than thirty years—but I am tired of Christians condemning it out of hand based on the half-baked testimony of their favorite Wilsons. (I do agree with Nate’s evaluation of the faux-revolution, but I don’t think that Collins should apologize because her protagonist isn’t a gladiator like Maximus Prime.)
Warning: This post is about as full of spoilers as the dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant. On the other hand, if you’re not familiar with the books, you probably won’t understand the discussion anyway, so you’re safe.
Needless to say, there is no comparison between Suzanne Collins’ writing and JRR Tolkien’s, or between the richness of CS Lewis’ imagination and the stark “realism” of the Hunger Games universe. Collins’ writing is almost painful to read sometimes, and the scenes between her “lovers” are as awkward and foolish as the imagination of a fourteen year old. Choices that are presented as dilemmas are almost laughable, characters make decisions that are nonsensical, and the whole world hinges on the principle that survival is the ultimate goal.
Or does it?
One of the most intriguing things about the series is its perspective. All three books are written consistently in first-person through the eyes of the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is brash rather than brave, fearful rather than merciful, and desperate rather than sacrificial. She volunteers to replace her sister in the 74th Hunger Games. An act of sacrifice? Absolutely not. It is an act of self-preservation. Katniss has nothing to live for except her family. She says as much time after time over the course of the three volumes. She understands two things, family and debt. She cannot stand to rely on anyone or anything, despite her feral “loyalty” to her mother and sister. Plus, she is petulant, irrational, and angry for almost the entire story. The only times she isn’t complaining to herself are when she is being kissed by one of the two boys that she just can’t make up her mind about. “I love him, I love him not, I love him! Wait… I love him not?”
The story is written in the first person, in the present tense. Now, any writing teacher, editor, or good friend will tell you that the present tense is emphatically not the voice in which to write a novel. It almost always feels forced, gamey. It makes the action seem like a graphic novel. In this case, Collins’ editor was either an idiot or a genius. While reading the first chapter of each book, I nearly stopped several times because I could barely stand the writing style. It’s full of unnecessary details, explanation. Sentence fragments like lopped-off boughs. With the success of the books, I can hardly imagine what this story might have been in the hands of a master like Ray Bradbury.
But again, the book succeeds in spite of everything, and the quirky writing actually helps its case. The POV is, as I said, first person, which means we see the whole story filtered through Katniss’ thoughts. There were many times, believe me, when I wanted to slap that girl, tell her to get out of the way so I could see what the rest of the characters were doing. She is surrounded by people who are vastly more interesting than she is. But here’s the thing: Collins knows just how irritating Katniss is. Many of my friends suggested that I read the first book (The Hunger Games) and stop there. But if I had just read the first and not the others, I would have come away from the story hating Katniss. She isn’t quite as airheaded as Bella Swan (who surely deserves a Darwin Award), but she is just as selfish and almost as unreasonable. But again, Collins knows this. The complete story is one of self-realization and semi-repentance. Katniss comes to understand herself and her responsibilities… almost. No protagonist should be required to complete their journey by the end of the book. That is unfair and unrealistic. (I suppose that last statement will probably spawn a discussion all by itself, but there it is.)
Some people (many Christians) think that such a violent book should not be read by children. That may be the case, I won’t argue that point. What your children should read is no business of mine. But many of the arguments against the violence go like this: “It’s promoting a Darwinistic view of the world, that all we are is animals and violence is just part of life.” Well, that’s stupid. Read the story. That is exactly what it is opposed to. (See this post from earlier this year about violence in the movie version.)
Anyway, back to the games. There are essentially three Games in the trilogy, one per volume. The first Games are unexpected and violent. They turn our characters against one another and against themselves. They are just as shocked by the reality as any of us would be if we were suddenly thrust into the same situation. What do you do, in the absence of Christ? You fight for your life, and if you survive, you try to forget. Remember: all these characters are at the best agnostic. They argue for the sanctity of life, but they realize that men are full of violence and deceit. I am sick of books that pretend that man is basically good. Wrong. Man is depraved, evil, heartless. The sooner he realizes that, the better. By the end of the trilogy, Katniss has more hope of finding Christ than many Christians who cover their children’s eyes when they see the book on the checkout counter at the library.
By the way, Tolkien does the same thing with his ending. His ending is not all roses and sunsets. He is more or less realistic about it (apart from the tearful affair with Frodo at the Grey Havens): the Shire is sad and full of soot, the hobbits clear it up, then set about fixing it up. Sam and Rosie get married and have children. It’s always tough to end a fantasy story. Lewis gets around it because of the episodic nature of his stories, as well as by moving into the actual Narnian eschaton at the end of The Last Battle. In any fantasy series you can think of, where the fate of the (known) world is turned around, there are two options for a satisfactory ending: 1) a victory and brief respite, with the hope of resurrection and final judgment, or 2) the actual judgment itself. If you have a respite with no hope of final judgment, you have yourself a cosmic battle between good and evil, with no hope of satisfaction.
Everything that you wished for in Book 1 happens in Book 2. The tributes unite (more or less). The allies remain true. People remain human. They break out of the arena. They cut the trackers out of their arms. Also, things get much worse. Katniss still can’t decide which of the boys she wants. President Snow becomes even more inhuman (which always seemed a weakness in his character). The irrationality of everyone’s efforts seems even more pronounced. They bicker and squabble with their allies. The good guys become even less likeable than they were in the original book, with the possible exception of Peeta. (By the way, if they don’t do something with him in the next movie he’s in danger of slipping into la-la land.)
What makes the book tolerable, more than anything, is the fact that Collins loves her characters. She put them in this world, in this story, and she cannot let them live in a world that is inconsistent or unfair. It may seem unfair to them, certainly, but what’s unfair (really unfair) about kids stabbing one another with spears in an arena? Do these children deserve death less than anyone else? The Bible says that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children. I don’t think these children are necessarily suffering for their crimes, except the crimes of selfishness, cowardice, envy, gluttony, pride, idolatry, and being related to Adam. Too violent, is it? Far less visceral than the world that we live in.
Is Collins treatment of the world unfair to her readers? There is laughter in the world, as well as sadness. Life as well as death. Joy as well as sorrow. Remember, though, that we are reading this story as Katniss, a bitter, angry girl who hates the world, hates everything in it (including her sister). So it’s no surprise that the world seems heartless and hopeless. With a certain attitude, everything will.
You can only tell a story by its ending. I began the third book of the trilogy with great trepidation, as many (many) of my friends had told me not to bother reading it. Again, the love triangle is nauseating and again, I found myself wanting to push Katniss out of the way so I could read the story. But as everything goes downhill, the characters only get more compelling.
And most importantly, Katniss finally comes to realize the depths of her selfishness. There are several great moments in the story (Peeta’s cold dismissal, Boggs’ evaluation) where Katniss sees herself through the eyes of others and recognizes how selfish, foolish, and manipulative she really is. Worst of all, Katniss has to ask herself what she really wants. She wants to kill President Snow, save her family, absolve her debt to Peeta, keep Gale as a hot-bodied friend. But what does she really want? She says something in book 2, I think it’s when Peeta is holding her for the first time, “For the first time, I stopped feeling scared.” She wants to stop feeling scared. And then, as Gale says in book 3, “Katniss will choose whoever she can’t survive without.” Katniss is scared, and more than anything, she wants to survive.
Collins does a good job of subverting the genre as far as the plot is concerned (no war is as clean as those presented in typical fantasy literature), but the heart of the story comes back to her characters and the change they undergo. The story ends with Katniss trying to remind herself that there is indeed goodness in the world, in spite of everything she’s seen. She makes a list of every good thing she has ever seen anyone do, and repeats it to herself in her head. But how can goodness wash out that much blood? If you asked Katniss, she would say something along the lines of, “Because it has to.” And she’s right. We know that bad is not good enough. That there is evil in the world and we can’t fix it ourselves. There is no explicit mention of Christ in The Hunger Games, but throughout the story, there are yearnings that point to Him. He is deafening in His absence. The whole trilogy feels like the prostitute who dragged herself into the house of Simon the Pharisee to wash the Messiah’s feet. Dirty, ragged, broken. But willing to repent.
Collins knows that her story is incomplete, and her characters know, and that makes all the difference.
So Sayeth the Muse
To write a poem
One must have thoughts
And know ‘em
For what they’re not.
The Other Story
Rhyme clicks the words in their position
Like Bolsheviks intent on their mission
To dethrone the tzar and crush his hat
And set up a Russian Soviet Federative Republic—rhyme is like that.
If you have a Twitter account, the best thing you can do with it is follow Emma Coats right now. Best known for her 22 Pixar Story Rules, she has a knack for simplifying the essence of good screen storytelling. I can’t (or don’t want to) retweet all of her good ideas all the time, so I’ll just post some of them below to whet your appetite.
#1 Phrase of the day: “callbacks”. Not the kind actors want, but the kind you use in stories.
#2 Since a film audience can’t experience a character’s thoughts like they can in a book, you manifest those thoughts as props, lines, cues.
#3 “I’ll be right here” at the end of E.T. is a callback line. It makes you think of the early part of the film, when it was first said.
#4 Every time a toy in the Toy Story movies looks at ANDY written on their foot, that’s a callback – we know they’re thinking about their boy.
This is just basic screenwriting technique. I love callbacks a little too much, actually – they can feel a little “tidy” in a short film – but they’re a good thing to attach to your utility belt. You should never put anything in a script that can’t be displayed visually, and this is another tool to help ease that challenge.