Tuesday, September 16, 2014

STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE - a highlight of my life

In the summer of nineteen-ninety-nine, George Lucas brought us an epic misfire-of-a-prequel to his beloved Star Wars trilogy. 

This misfire occurred at the end of my eighteenth year, in the middle of my second summer in industrial reforestation in British Columbia, Canada. My tree-planting camp and I were at the time working out of the northern city of Prince George, and on our first day off after the premiere, we arrived at the theater an hour before showtime to ensure we'd get our tickets. 

The film had been out a few days by then, and reports of Jar-Jar and generalized stupidity were beginning to bounce around the still-fledgling internets. But we had been out in the deep woods, so it was with nothing but enthusiasm that I and perhaps twenty of my cohorts found our way to the outside of the theater. There was a short line already (yes, an hour before showtime), so we got our tickets and took our place.

A couple of our number had showed up a little bit inebriated, and one fellow in particular had been tipping back with some enthusiasm. We'll call him Charles.

Charles was distinctive at the time for his half-bleached head of hair: half white, half dark-brown. So he was noticeable and he was noisy, and he made full use of that by attempting to get the fast-growing line on board for the movie. 

"Let's hear it for fifty-five minutes to Star Wars!" he shouted, and our whole crew cheered in reply.

"Let's hear it for fifty minutes to Star Wars!" he shouted, and most of the rest of the patrons joined in.

Time passed.

Minutes crawled by as Charles led us in cheers for each five minute increment, then cheers for each character. For Chewbacca. For Luke Skywalker. For George Lucas. For Lucasfilm. For anything and everything he could think to cheer. 

By the time we filed into the theater and took our places in the middle rows, most everyone in the massive line that had formed was playing along, and we were all surging with anticipation for what was going to be the best film-watching experience of our lives. 

The theater filled. 

Charles kept up his cheers, and although there were some in the packed theater who were looking at us askance, most played along. 

"Let's hear it for C-3PO!" he shouted, and a chorus of cheers rang out. 

There was a moment of silence.

Into that silence came the voice of a small child. A boy of about eight years old, who yelled out in a piping, tremulous voice, "Let's hear it for Jobba-the-Hut!"

Now, you have to realize that for nearly an hour, we had been exclusively following the lead of our inebriated ringleader, Charles. This was a new voice, asking us to cheer for a villain. No one knew quite what to do.

Silence.

The little boy's father looked mortified. He grabbed his son, to tell him off. 

Charles saw this happening, and something like compassion flitted across his face. Only he could save the moment, and save it he did.

"Aw, c'mon people," he shouted, "Let's hear it for the kid!"

Unrestrained cheering filled the theater, and the little boy just beamed

Enthusiasm was nearing a breaking point. Someone on my crew hollered for me to stand and sing the Nations of the World song (of Animaniacs fame). My whole crew took up the chant, and soon I was standing and singing the words as everybody in the theater clapped along, keeping time. I finished, and they all cheered. 

The lights dimmed, a little, and a theater employee entered with a flashlight and walked up to the front. He wore a burgundy jacket with a little gold crest on it. He seemed to be as excited as we were. After he had our attention, he welcomed us to the film. He thanked us all for coming, and then singled out our crew of somewhat-partially-drunken treeplanters as "the cheering section," and informed everyone that they were welcome to join us during the movie in cheering for the heroes and booing the villains.

It was strange to be affirmed in our juvenile disruptiveness, but nobody seemed to mind. We were all too amped up. This was Star Wars. After so many years... this was STAR WARS

Then the movie began.

I don't think even the slightly-drunk Charles missed seeing what a debacle it was. 

By then, though, the Force was strong with him. He directed a steady stream of banter at the film in front of us, and the inertia of our combined enthusiasm carried us all the way through that absolute starship-wreck of a movie, right to the end.

As we exited the theater, I knew we'd just witnessed a movie that was going to live on in infamy. But when a random fellow theatergoer came up and shook my hand - thanking me and the rest of us for the best theater experience of his life - I knew as well that something special had occurred. 

That something was community.

Now, "community" has become a bit of a buzzword, these days. 

Most of us who lived before the internet age have felt a little ripped off by the inhuman, flash-in-the-pan nature of the digitally-connected world that has replaced the real, human connection of once-upon-a-time. We've felt the loss of a world where people actually looked each other in the face, and did things together.

At our best, we as humans can build strong, well-knitted communities where we are committed to being with each other through anything that life will throw our way, and these communities can provide us with a center from which to venture out, creatively, into the future. All this is, though, is a succession of moments, spent together. I think it's important to remember that community is only ever an ephemeral, momentary thing. And while experiencing a movie of dubious value fifteen years ago may not seem like much, for me it is something of an emotional touchstone for what community can be. 

It is a drunk friend, cheering for a grand filmic possibility. 

It is a small boy, being made to feel like a hero. 

It is a chance to share a stupid-pet-trick song I taught myself in college.

It is a group of strangers, banding together over the shared memory of a trilogy that had shaped their young lives, and deciding as a group to suspend our inner critic and just enjoy the experience of being together, watching a movie. 

There's beauty in that. And love. And I am grateful, today, for the memory of a theater experience where I felt a part of something beautiful, and bigger than myself... a community.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

the thing about religion...

A really great piece of art taps into something deeply true about human nature... which opens the work up to a variety of interpretations.

In the short film EVERYTHING & EVERYTHING & EVERYTHING, writer/director Alberto Roldan uses a mysterious blue pyramid to (apparently) talk about the effect of consumer culture on an individual.

I, however, experienced this short as a meditation on what happens to a person when they encounter the mysterious power of the transcendent and, rather than merely enjoying and appreciating it for what it is, attempt instead to capitalize and control it.

This is better experienced than articulated. They wouldn't let me embed it, though, so check it out, HERE. It's worth the click-through.


everything & everything & everything | Short Cuts International | TIFF 2014 from TIFF on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

please tear me apart

Last night we staged a table read for a feature-length script I wrote called GINSENG, and it was the sort of experience one yearns for as a writer. 

Everybody loved it. They told me it was awesome - that I was awesome. An actor politely inquired as to whom he should kill in order to secure a role, once we go into production. 

Et cetera. 

I tell you this, of course, to toot my own horn. This is the internet, after all. 

But here's the thing... 

That was also the absolute worst outcome for a table read, because the whole point of a table read is to let you know what isn't working as well as it could. It's great to hear that people resonated with something I wrote to the point where their brain did that thing brains do and skipped over some of the problems that might have bubbled to the surface on the fourth or fifth reading... but I also needed criticism. Fortunately there were a few dissonant voices (from those who also loved it - because this is still the internet), and today I've been  cogitating through the things those voices said... and also arguing with the director over which of them were insane, and which were genius nuggets of genius. 

Because as much as I absolutely hate to believe that there's ever anything wrong with any of my drafts, ever, there always is. A lot.

It is a very, very hard thing to admit that other people can see my baby more clearly than I. It's much easier to get defensive and assume it's jealousy or bad faith or indigestion that's making them act like such jerks. This is very rarely the case. Most of the time, they just want to help. And while they're quite often (Always?) wrong in their suggestions for how to make the story better, they're still usually right about the things that aren't working (Or at least, the qualms they have are signposts to what is actually wrong).

So. 

Life lesson?

Well... since you asked: 

You are not perfect. You're also amazing at hiding your imperfections from yourself. But if you hide yourself away and never let anyone see the real you and speak the truth to you about where you're falling short, then you'll never have the opportunity to identify what needs work, and then do the work that will free you to get better.

Criticism sucks, but it's the only way to grow. 

So find good people you can trust. Share yourself openly with them, inviting their creative criticism. Then do your best to set aside your knee-jerk, self-defensive reaction. Listen deeply to what they are saying about and to you, and realize that the things they are talking about are not YOU. They're a part of you, sure, but they're a malleable part. You can change them. And while these people are often going to be wrong about what they think is going on, you can still learn from them. 

If they don't have any criticisms to offer - if they think you're great the way you are - then be grateful for that! Maybe they don't know you all that well, or maybe they do but they're not zoning in on your weaknesses. That's fine. You need people like that in your life, too. 

We're all fragile.
We're all fighting a difficult battle. 

But one way to fight it well is to open yourself up to criticism.

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*NOTE: The above-pasted photo was taken by director Ben Joyner, and I'm using it here completely without his permission (or the permission of anyone in the photo). But that's okay because I'm the writer and I own the story which means I have all the power mwah-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa (degenerates into maniacal laughter).

Monday, September 8, 2014

Austin Film Fest Second Second Rounder

I know I've only ever told you when I've had some sort of positive outcome from the screenwriting competitions I've entered this year, but hey... you think I'm gonna tell you about my failures? About the scripts that were dismissed without a second glance? About how I wept openly in front of my woman-friend when I decided the book I'd been writing sucked and I was going to have to toss it into the round filing cabinet for good? No. Of course not.

This is the internet. This is about crowing.

So guess what? Today I got another letter from the Austin Film Festival, this time telling me that PINK had made it to the second round, just like ONLY THE GOOD. And I got another note from the director of the contest, saying "Blah-blah-blah, we liked your script, etc. etc. And so forth"

This sounds cool, I guess... if you don't think too hard about how "top fifteen percent" really means "top thousand scripts," and does diddly-squat for your career. Still. Better'n a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

If you'd like to see my name a couple times in a very long list of names, click HERE.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Austin Film Fest Second Rounder

"De gustibus non est disputandum."

Or, as a slightly-less-pretentious student of Latin maxims might say: "There's no accounting for taste." Seriously. No accounting at all. Just try it - try and account for taste... I'll wait.

Couldn't do it, could you?
I rest my considerable case.

See, back in July I got word that some paid readers had thought my script ONLY THE GOOD really, really sucked. They didn't just scorn it, they hurled imprecations and verbal excrement at it for about three pages, each.

That hurt.

Being an unbelievably insecure person, I decided to quit screenwriting.
Then I decided, nah, I'll just quit that particular script.
I handed it over to my buddy Austin (who'd helped me work out the story beats) and forgot about it.

Until today.

Today I got a letter from the Austin Film Festival (no relation) informing me that my script ONLY THE GOOD had made it to the second round of judging, placing it in the top 15% of more than 6,764 entries. Not only that, but the director of the competition appended a hand-written note that read, "P.S. Our readers really enjoyed your script! Your emotional story features a unique character study. Keep up the good work!"

I repeat, "De gustibus non est disputandum."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

one world awesome

All time-crunching aside, I couldn't stop myself from sharing with you this fantastic bit of information that showed up in my junk email this morning from something called the Illuminati Project, with the subject line, "2016 - Obama's New World Order."

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This subject matter is one of the biggest controversies of recent times. 

Was the choosing of Barack Obama as president of the United States, a monumental historic occasion, or a camouflaged attempt, to turn the United States over to the control of a one world government led by specific royal houses of Europe? Did you know that since coming to power, Barack Obama has signed into existence some of the most extensive and controversial bills and initiatives in American history including


 1. Giving medical research the ability to conduct experiments which involvement the development of human/animal chimera's

 2.  Plans to set up a global internet content approval regulator 
 3.  Plans to allows United Nation law to supersede congress

An intense insider report and 1 hour video documentary on Obama's New World Order and its connection with the royal houses of Europe.

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Me, I'm a massive fan of this sort of comic writing, and delighted that the grammatically-challenged of the world are still finding ways to amuse themselves.

It's great that people can enjoy this stuff without ever taking it seriously, or using it to spread fear throughout the masses and oh-dear-Lordy, we're-DOOMED.

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