Monthly Archives: June 2014

Writing on a Team

Whee, as of a few nights ago we’re about half done!  I mean, sure, it’s only a rough draft, and I need to touch up large sections of act III, but #YOLO right?

Did I do the hashtag right?  I’m not really sure.  Whatever you kids do these days.

At any rate, progress has been stellar.  Or at least I think it’s been stellar.  Apparently, screenwriting is a fast medium.  That being said, the first round of edits is going to hurt.  However, that’s future Johnathan’s problem, and I’ve long since learned how to pass the buck on to that poor shmuck.

In important, but pretty unrelated, news: We now have a real fake title!  The current working title has leveled up from “______ Waltz” to “Secrets”.  Isn’t that pretty.

One of the coolest things about this project thus far has been writing with a partner.  It’s a new experience for me, and man is it great.  Highly recommend, 10/10, five stars, would eat here again.

It’s amazing because, at least for this project, we cover each other’s holes pretty well.  What kind of holes, you ask?  Like, you know, half of the characters.

No, but seriously: all of my blog posts have been about Luna (or at least relating to Luna) because I don’t get Ivan in the slightest.  I mean, I know he’s got a robotic arm and he’s a mechanical wizard and he’s living down a troubled past.  But, I can’t get in his head.  I struggle to write his lines and generally ask that Shannon go over and rewrite his dialogue for any scene I’ve written him in.

On the other hand, I see Luna in my head really well.  I could probably write her in a rom com about online dating if I had to, because I can see all her personality and her dreams and her ambitions.  These are independent from the setting, and even (to an extent) independent from what she physically looks like.

Shannon gets Ivan, but she doesn’t understand Luna.  It’s gotten to the point where we just do cutouts for the other to come back and write the correct lines.  So, in the rough draft, it isn’t uncommon to see:

VLAD
Is everything to your liking?

LUNA
response

VLAD
Shall you join me for this dance?

I need to fill in Luna’s line here.   I mean, it’s obvious that her line is just a sorta generic “yeppers!” but there are so many ways to write that.

Oh, by the way, Vlad (full name: Vladimir) is our villain.  Yes, there is a scene where our female lead dances with the villain.  No, you don’t know he’s the villain yet, unless we decide to tip the hand and make him look eeeeviiiiil.

Now, this quirk in writing gets even better when you think about it for a second.  As you can see by my picture down there, I’m male (ladies).  Shannon isn’t.  So, our male lead writer is writing the female protagonist and our female lead writer is writing the male protagonist.  Apparently, we’re confused.

So, you know, this’ll either be the least implicitly sexist thing ever or the most implicitly sexist thing ever.  Could go either way, really.  Obviously, Shannon and I aren’t trying to be awful, and she’s probably more in tune with this sort of thing than I am.  I will say that Luna is based on an actual male friend of mine, which, depending on how you look at it, either helps or hurts my case.  I don’t even know anymore.

I’m really bad with this.

At any rate, this is something fun to talk about but not something I’m thinking about at all when I write.  Especially in ‘rough draft’ mode, the most important part is to get all the plot and character elements on the page, and roughly lined up in order.  From here, editing, rewrites and feedback from beta readers can polish up the script to a mirror like shine that even Jezebel won’t hate me for.

They may still hate me anyway, but ya know…  In this age of viral content, if I even get slammed it still counts as publicity!

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The Mortality Rate of Disney Parents

There is an off-joked about trend in Disney movies– if you happen to have helped give birth to a protagonist, you better get your will in order.

The number of Disney protagonists with two surviving parents is probably less than a tenth of the cannon*.  I could come up with only a few examples– Rapunzel’s parents in Tangled are around to watch their daughter grow up (although they aren’t really part of the narrative at all), and, um.  uh.  I had another example I was going to use, but forgot it mid sentence.

It’s not very many, is the point.  If you ever see both parents, you can set your watch on the fact that one of them is going to die before the credits roll.  Sometimes, the movie’s gotta troll first (Did you know that Bambi nearly kills the mother twice before she finally gets shot?  It’s almost frustrating to watch), other times they’re just never around and no one bothers explaining why (Beauty and the Beast), or they’ve passed away before the movie begins (Cinderella, Princess and the Frog).

I always thought this was a weird quirk, but never bothered looking into it.  One, because I’m not a parent and actual parents are already doing a great job handling parents in Disney and two, because I didn’t think it was that important.  Parents are hard to write, and if they aren’t needed for character motivation, just hand wave them.  Disney movies are stories about children, no one wants to see adult life.**

Well… protagonist age has increased as Disney has gotten older.  Snow White is a terrifying 7 in the Brother’s Grimm tale, and Disney aged her (in the 40s) to the much more mature 14-ish, which is better but deep in the land of “Seriously?!”

In contrast, Anna is 18 during most of the action of Frozen and Elsa is 21.   My little brother is younger than the protagonists of a movie that is ostensibly marketed to people younger than him.  Disney movies are happening to older and older people– so, you know, these aren’t entirely stories about children anymore.  Hell, at the rate we’re going, maybe we’ll have a Disney movie about a parent soon.

What I’m trying to get at is that Disney movies are growing up with the audience that fell in love with them.  And part of that is that we can’t just ignore parents– but, after starting to write my own Disney film, I can say with confidence that we will, and here is why:

Fairy tale parents are insane.

We’re adapting The Twelve Dancing Princesses, which only references one parent, the father.  Fine, I guess, considering that have 12 children with one woman seems like… well, painful, so the King was probably had a kid or four out of wedlock and we’d want to leave that to a humorous quip, if we bring it up at all.

Fine.  However, upon realizing his children are sneaking somewhere every night, the King’s reaction is, “Better put a bounty on my daughters!”

Look, I don’t have kids, but I get the feeling that that is pretty awful parenting.  Reconciling that with anything is just… it’s hard.  Think about the levels of father/daughter trust failure that need to happen:

1) The daughters need to decide that it’s better to sneak out than ask their father, or else the King would know that dancing was the reason why the shoes were worn down every night, he just wouldn’t know where.
2) The king asks his daughters what’s going on, and they’re so afraid of him that they refuse to tell him, despite the fact that the act of dancing doesn’t seem to impair them in any way.
3) Instead of trying to get to know his children better and earn their trust, the king hires a PI/compels the police to figure this problem out.
4) Upon that failure, the King still decides that random people just living in the kingdom are his best bet.  Rather than, you know, talking to his children.

And he’s a king, not a low-functioning alcoholic!  To make matters tricker, most of what I’ve written for Luna factors on the king being a competent ruler, as she struggles to find the courage to fill his shoes.  This man clearly can not exist… but he does and I have no idea how to write it.

What do?

Well, actually, the solution so far has been pretty easy– pull a Dumbledore.  Dumbledore doesn’t actually do a whole lot in the early Harry Potter books.  He kinda just delivers exposition and ties up loose plot threads.  Sure, he’s a powerful wizard, and his knowledge and ability probably would have saved some Hogwarts’ student’s lives, but he’s always just unable to help for whatever reason.  The King is our Dumbledore, at least at this point in this draft.

So far (and we’re about 20 pages in) the King has not actually shown up.  We see a lot of advisors to the king, but the man himself is kinda like this mythical creature that we never really show.  By keeping the king an arms length away from the action– he’ll always be just unable to help, Luna can both idolize her father and her father can be a horrid parent at the same time.

If we never bring attention to it in the narrative, hopefully the slight of hand will work– viewers will remember the king for how the other characters see him, rather than by his actions.  Just like early book Dumbledore.

The other option is to highlight the fact that the king is an isolated, shitty parent because the kids were primarily raised by mom.  But, we don’t want to point attention there either, because, you know, 1 parent, 12 children.  Ouchies.

Also, by writing a blog post about it, I totally kill the magic.  I’m a wizard that reveals how the trick works before showing you the trick.  Thank god this is just a rough draft.

*This ended up sparking a lively debate with some friends.  We’ve so far come up with 6 out of the 52 movies in Disney’s main animated canon where the parents live.  I’m also being unfair– many Disney movies feature protagonists that can’t have parents without it getting weird (Wreck-It Ralph, for example).  However, in a lot of movies where the parents are around, they get forced away from the action, either because of the plot (Mulan) or because they really subscribe to Laissez-Fare parenting (Peter Pan).   In, eh, about half of these films, the plot breaks down if the parents happen to be great parents– Wendy would never want to run away if her father hung out with her more in Peter Pan, and if Herc’s foster parents in Hercules were able to integrate Herc into society better, there goes that movie.

Essentially, successful parenting undoes the basic framing of a Disney movie– going on an adventure to learn a moral, because that moral would have been passed down along with some really awkward Dad joke.**

**However, all of this is kinda moot because 101 Dalmatians exists.

Maleficent, Cinderella III and Intentionality

So, last weekend, I saw Maleficent because you gotta keep your hand on the pulse of the modern fairy tale if you plan on writing one.  And yes, I want to talk about it this week.

This post will have spoilers.  You have been warned.

I went in with very low expectations due to the fact that
A) I have opinions about who Maleficent is that spawn from my deep reading of fairy tales, and the blurb about the movie on Google did not meet those opinions.
B) I remember not liking that gritty reboot of Peter Pan that Disney did a while back
C) Angelina Jolee has been in a lot of bad films

B and C turned out to be pretty much unfounded.  The movie is beautiful, and considering how often Angelina Jolee stares at something off screen and still manages to convey emotion, her acting is pretty impressive.  She does her damnest to sell Maleficent, and she does a good job at it.  The score is fine– it’s not obtrusive, if not particularly memorable.  At least it isn’t just hours of drumsplosions, which seems to be where Marvel is taking their scores these days.

The writing, however, had problems.  There is only one character in Maleficent, guess who.  Everyone else in the film is a foil, and an obvious one.  Stephan is a foil to Maleficent’s own darkness and rage, Aurora a foil to Maleficent’s carefree childhood.  The pixies foil Maleficent’s intellect and prowess.  The bird who’s name I don’t remember doesn’t actually make it to foil status, he just sorta wines sometimes and carries out her orders.

No, seriously.  He throws a bit of a temper tantrum in the middle of the movie, and I still have no idea why.  (Not the “you turned me into a wolf!” one, the “you can turn me into whatever you want, idgaf” one– yes, this character is a bit of a whiner).

So, clearly, this movie was written with one star, and so it is up to Maleficent herself to carry the film.  And, as stated before, Angelina does a damn good job of it.  But, well…

I don’t agree with this story being a Maleficent tale.  It’s a fine story of betrayal in love, and redemption in learning to love again.  There is nothing technically wrong with it– hell, the story is not the typical angle of learning to love via romance, but learning to love over (for all intents and purposes) a family member.  It’s even very Disney in that aspect, as its Aurora’s goofy enthusiasm that warms Maleficent’s heart.

But, read that sentence again.  Warms Maleficent’s heart?  Really?  We gave the Star Wars prequels shit about Darth Vader, and we’re going to let this one slip by?  Look, say what you want, but bad guys are always more badass.  And, evil is at it’s most badass when it doesn’t have a reason– I can’t recall the exact source, but Steven King has written about how horror ends the moment you reveal the monster.  But, now we’re going a step further– not only are we revealing the monster, but we’re also revealing how it looked when it was 2 years old and slinging oatmeal everywhere.

Maleficent was one evil lady– even in the original fairy tale of Little Briar Rose, she’s just a bad apple.  No accounting for it, she just is.  Take The Lion King as an example– we know that Scar is ambitious, but we never know why.  He’s just an evil lion with dreams for power– he looses that aura of mystique when you reveal that he acted this way because he had to drink after Mufasa at the watering hole.  Or something.

But, this is a personal gripe.  Learning the background behind a villain can cast them in a sympathetic light, which can also be amazingly powerful.  It’s the give and take between Sid in the Toy Story series and Lotso the Hugable Bear.  Sid still kinda freaks me out, but Lotso is the more complex villain.

I probably would have been ok with learning about Maleficent’s innocent past if this wasn’t a redemption story, more of a epic “rise of the villain” tale.  Like a badass Dr. Horrible.  But Maleficent’s wings get restored and I sighed and hey, at least it looked pretty.

So that’s my review… but that’s not what’s really interesting about the film.  Essentially, Maleficent is a concept I don’t like executed very well (outside some shoddy writing).  Disney actually has the exact opposite hiding under a shelf– Cinderella III.

Yes, I’m going to compare them.  Hold on to your hats, people.

Cinderella III asks the question no one else was asking, outside of one really lonely fanfic writer– what if the evil stepmother got a hold of the fairy godmother’s wand?  I submit to you, dear reader, that is a ballin’ premise.  I want to know more about that story.  The evil stepmother is ambitious, cunning and just creepy as all getup.  Now, lets give her magic– how the hell is Cinderella gonna win now?  Her side levels in druid to charm small animals aren’t going to be much help.

There is even the cool framing device of having the stepmother rewind time back to the point that the slipper didn’t fit one of her children, and then uses magic to make it fit.  The prince wasn’t entirely blind, and know’s something is up because an ugly stepsister is not who he danced with.  In addition, we get an interesting bit of character focus– what’s life like for an ugly stepsister?  We know that her mother dominates all her personal decisions in the name of selfish gain, so what are her ambitions?  Aspirations?  Who is she?

Does this not sound like an amazing film?  I know how this story ends, and I want to re-watch Cinderella III.  Sadly, the movie is a goddamn train wreck.  This is the title song–

 

You can see the good movie trying to escape gimmick ridden, bland and sloppy animated nightmare.  This is probably the best clip from the film too, outside of the pumpkin sequence, so it really only goes downhill from here.  It’s a fantastic movie to watch after a couple of cocktails.

Maleficent is the exact opposite of that– but intention is the smaller of the two sides of the coin.  You can go see a movie who’s concept you don’t agree with, but if it’s done well, you can still call it a good time.  Sure, the angel symbolism is stupid in Maleficent, but did you hear the prince’s lines in that opening song?  “Would my perfectly perfect wife put on her perfectly fitting shoes?”

I feel bad for copying that line.  Heaven forbid I actually left it in a script for a movie.  Hopefully, enough people are interested in our concept, but the lesson here is this– a good idea is only the start.  The real important battle is making that idea so good that  the most your haters can say is, “eh.  Not the story I wanted, personally”.

This title will be written as soon as I get off TV Tropes

Disclaimer: TV Tropes is one of the more notorious black holes on the Internet.  A common tale of woe told around monitors is that of a man who goes to TV Tropes and the next thing he knows is it’s a week later and he’s got Cheetos stains on everything.  You have been warned.  I’m a professional– don’t browse TV Tropes at home kids.  It’s dangerous.

Things that you run into when you write any type of fiction: tropes.

Defined by the authority on tropes, TV Tropes:   “Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.  On the whole, tropes are not clichés.”

A cliché is a trope gone to far– one that’s been done to death and back and no one wants to hear that bit again.  However, even the most trite and overused tropes often get reinvented to add fresh air to an old concept– we’re still telling damsel in distress stories, after all, but in modern fiction (or, I should say, good modern fiction– trashy dollar store novels will use every hack in the book) it’s rare to see the textbook example.  Everyone has read that textbook already, thank you.

So, to understand our source material a little better, I browsed through its entry on TV Tropes.  I was saddened to find out that TDP isn’t a trope namer for any tropes, nor is it the first example of any trope.

Several tropes can get thrown out as unimportant– the fact that TDP, in the version we’re basing things off of, has no named characters is nice, but irrelevant.  Disney movies have characters with names.

Per our preliminary notes, we’re already including a big, fancy castle, massive numbers of siblings, a protagonist that starts out pretty poor and some sort of dance.  I’m currently scribbling down on a notepad what the basic consequences of having these sorts of tropes does to the narrative and characters.  For example, seeing that large families these days are kinda rare, and households are having less and less children,  how did it happen that a political figure in the far future has twelve daughters?

Magic?  Strange political reasons?  Really bad luck?  Taking advice from rabbits?

Aside: Oh my god, I want to write that scene where the king, is his awkward youth, gets dating/relationship advice from a magical talking rabbit.  I’m giggling just picturing that.  Probably doesn’t fit into our story or target audience, but still.  *snicker*

I’m not looking for a particularly compelling reason, or a rational one, or even one that I’m going to explicitly point to.  Just food for thought.  Another one:  Dancing might be pretty rare, so it helps the princesses motivations along– they love dancing (get it from their mother) but this is the year 20XX.  No one dances anymore.  It’s a dying art.

Other things to look at are tropes that have become clichés (but weren’t done to death when the tale was written down) that we’re going to want to subvert or ignore.  Everything isn’t better with a traditional princess, but I’m hoping to subvert that a bit.  Personally, I’d like to bring out the political side of being next in line.  The royalty in our story, I think, is going to hold actual political power, and Luna (and probably the next oldest, Zorya) are going to be expected to rule themselves one day.

That’s a heavy responsibility– it’s like being the President, but you can’t blame things not working on congress.  Being a princess is not all fun and games and being frail and waiting for a white knight– that doesn’t feed people.  Ruling feeds people.

There are several tropes in TDP that I hadn’t considered at all before looking over the tropes page.  In the tale, the princesses evade getting caught through slipping drugs in wine to put the people sent to find them to sleep.  The protagonist gets around this with some discrete drink disposal.

Even though I haven’t really thought about it, we can throw some quiet nods to both tropes all in two scenes.  Maybe in our version of the tale, our protagonist (who’s name is Ivan, by the way), is the first person to try and figure out what the princesses are doing every night and one of them comes up with a knee jerk reaction to roofie him.

Our protagonist evades the ruse with the help of his animal sidekick, or his robotic arm (preliminary notes put Ivan as a cyborg.  And of course he has a sidekick, this is a Disney movie) and the tale goes on as normal.  I don’t know how important exactly the drugged drink is, but it is very important to note that the princesses do not want to be caught.

This helps tie into our already established themes about Luna– she starts the tale so resistant to leave the nightly dancing that she’ll resort to chemical warfare to keep things the way they are.  By the end of the story, she’s the catalyst of change.

Other things we haven’t covered at all– the hero in the fairy tale gets help from a magical shady lady in a forest.  I, personally, kinda dislike this trope.  It’s a derivative of Deus ex Machina, which came about because the ancient Greeks sometimes wrote themselves into a plot holes and were kinda lazy (I think.  It’s been a few years since I had to sit through an ancient Greek lit class).  Unless we decide the story needs it, I’d be more than happy to never touch on this facet of the tale, and let Ivan win his battles on his own.

Ok, two more.

First– the ubiquitous rule of three shows up in TDP– the protagonist has three days to figure out where the princesses are going every night before he gets murdered by the king.  His first two trips down to the hidden underground castle are pretty much the same, his last time down there has a twist.  The twist, at least in TDP, is rather minor– the solder takes an extra cup along with him for proof to show the king.  I almost want to ignore the pattern outright, but it’s such a common fairy tale rhythm that not using it feels wrong. Repetition is a tricky beast in stories– amazingly powerful when done right, but boring as hell when done wrong.

Finally, the fairy tale does do a bit of subversion– the youngest child doesn’t win.  However, the youngest princess is totally onto the protagonist the entire time he’s spying on the princesses.  You get the feeling he chooses the oldest as a bride because she’s a few light bulbs short of a full set and he knows he can outwit her.  However, we want people to leave the theater with Luna as a confident princess, ready to take on the throne.  What do?

Well, rather than just ignoring the subversion, I think we can play homage to it.  Cassiopeia (our youngest princess) can find the evidence that starts Luna’s change of heart, thus keeping true to the spirit of both characters, while still letting us focus on the older one without making her kinda dumb.

This helps add dramatic tension as well– Cass doesn’t know the gravity of the evidence she brings to Luna (or even that it’s a bad thing), and when Luna uses it as a reason to stop the dancing, Cass can naturally resist, rebel and ultimately feel like it’s her fault for pushing her sister away.

Awww, yeah.  Just what I like in my fictional characters– development and personality.  Damn gurl, you look fiiiiine with all that character.