All posts by relimited

About relimited

Sup. I'm a computer science grad student out in California currently reading fairy tales rather than writing a strong testing framework.

Plot Twist, Mr. Frodo!

Here be spoilers for The Wolf Among Us.  Because I want to talk about the ending to season 1, and ya know, gotta talk about everything if you want to talk about the end.

Tally ho!

So, Telltale games (most famously known for The Walking Dead games) has done a series of point and click adventure games based on the Fables graphic novel/comic series.  I had read the first book of the series before playing The Wolf Among Us, based on the recommendation of a friend.  Anyway, the universe the game (and the comics.  And the novels.  And short stories. And, and, and…) takes place in is a 1980’s-esque New York in Fabletown.

For those of you not from New York, that isn’t actually a burrow.  In Fables, fairy tales have been forced out of their homelands and into our reality.  They live in a secret community called Fabletown, passing for humans through the use of magical glamours (and those of the community who can’t pass for human, live on an annex to Fabletown called The Farm.  Everyone hates the Farm).  It’s pretty hilarious to see one of the three little pigs take a smoke.

Anyway, you play as Bigby Wolf (you know him as the Big Bad Wolf), the sheriff of Fabletown, as he tries to keep the peace.  The plot is very solid, generally ending each episode on a great cliffhanger and keeping a rapid, snappy pace.  The entire setting is 1980’s noir, except with Mr. Toad and Ichabod Crane.  It’s fantastic.  The characters are twisted variants on the fables they come from, sorta kinda.  Snow White is nothing like the girl in the tale, but Beauty and the Beast are a painfully sappy, yet always bickering married couple you know that centuries of marriage would make them.

So, why did I bring this up at all?  Because plot twists, man.

The Wolf Among Us is a detective story, and as anything in the genre, it has a twisty bendy plot with Bigby slowly filling in the holes as he goes.  Most of the time, the twists are great– several come way out of left field (as in a ‘shit, wait what now?’ sense not a ‘pole vaulting the shark’ sense), and the explanation for the twist is usually also a twist.  Twists in twists in twists.  Good times.

The problem comes in at the very end of the game, after you’ve made your final big decision.  The big bad hath been vanquished, and there are only one real question left on the plot:
Why the hell where the Faith’s and Lily’s heads left on the doorstep to The Forrest?

Nerissa beckons Bigby over and we get the last bit of information– she was the one to leave the heads out for Bigby to find, so that he’d start investigating the murders, and eventually take down the Crooked Man.  And, one more twist, we find out that Nerissa lied at the mob hearing– she never actually heard the Crooked Man give the order, she just hated his guts.  She walks away, the player realizing that Nerissa was manipulating Bigby to strike back at the Crooked Man for killing her friends, bread-crumbing hints when leads got cold and generally doing everything she could to get her revenge.

It’s a great last twist, wrapping up the plot details while showing a side of a character we hadn’t seen before.  The problem is, it’s not the last little twist.

Nerissa leaves the overhang with the same parting words Faye gave Bigby at the start, “You’re not as bad as everyone says you are.”  This triggers a spurt of memory magic in Bigby, as he remembers pretty much every line he’s had with both Nerissa and Faith, and also the fact that we have a dangling plot thread in Faith’s body– the Dr. Swineheart had it last, but no one has checked up on his autopsy of it as other things took precedence.

The game never says it, but at this point it’s heavily implied that Faith and Nerissa were glamoured as each other at one point, and it’s one of them is walking away from you and the other is dead, and the one that’s alive is the same one that interacted with you at the start of the game.

Or, even more mindfucky, the Nerissa we’ve been interacting with _is_ Faith, and the little mermaid was never in this story.  The dead girl was a prop, glamoured to look like Faith and Faith then glamoured herself to look like Nerissa and has been leading you on ever since.

All of these things are over the top, and silly.  Mostly because it doesn’t matter.  So what if the girls played swapsies?  One of them is still dead via ribbon decapitation and the other is a master of deception.  We already knew that.

If this is just a cliffhanger (what did Bigby realize? OMG!!11!!!) to lead into the next game, it’s a silly one.  We have enough characters to use as introductory elements to any game– Snow, Beauty, Beast, King Cole, etc– we don’t need to add some extra layer to an already very complex and layered character.  Let Nerissa/Faith breathe, and go make someone else more complicated.

All in all, it takes a masterful ending (they could have even used that cool noir fade-to-black-esque trope with the damsel in distress walking away) and then tries to add one more twist as either a ‘gotcha’ or as a lead in, and it totally doesn’t need that.  The entire game is structured around episodes and seasons anyway, and there is still so much more of Fabletown to see (why does everyone hate the Farm?  Does it really suck that much?), we don’t need a breadcrumb to grab the next game.

So, you know, don’t do that.  I’m all for ambiguous endings, but if you want to play it that way, make the ambiguity very important to the narrative– Inception is a good modern example.

The other case is that we get this weird scene because we never do figure out what happened with Faith’s body.  If that’s why you’re writing something like this, then stop.  You don’t have to resolve every plot thread.  You can let some hang.   That’s ok.  Real life doesn’t give us nice, clean, perfect resolutions.  Let the minor stuff be ambiguous.  If it really becomes an issue for your fanbase, then you just found yourself a sequel.  Congrats.

Showing Emotional Pain

Here be spoilers to Guardians of the Galaxy. Turn back if you don’t wish to have things ruined. Onto the post!

Part of things you need to do when you’re writing a movie is to watch current movies–
especially movies that fit the genre you’re writing for so you can do the things that people will like, and don’t do anything that Battlefield Earth did.  So, I guess that puts Scientology out of the picture?

Anyway, if you don’t know, everyone is still fawning over Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s latest sci-fi superhero movie on their disturbingly fast movie release schedule.  And, you might be aware, I’m trying to write a sci-fi Disney film.  I saw Guardians, and came back with, well, questions.  So, I decided to go see it twice to see if anything made more sense on a repeat watching.

Also, I wanted to see it in 3D because I have a weakness for eye candy.

And now I’m gonna write about it, because Disney owns Marvel.  Boom.

So, lets kill the most important elephant in the room– the 3D was excellent.  I have gone on record having said that 3D sucks and will always suck, but if you have even a little bit of cash to spare for the more expensive ticket, I highly recommend it.  Yep, eating my words.  There are times when it gets flashy (I winced from exploding debris, in actual surprise and fear, not cheese), but there is actually a touch of subtly to it, and it turns out that makes the whole experience way better.

With that out of the way, lets talk about why I felt the need to re-watch the film.  Namely, my spirit animal, Rocket Raccoon.

No, not a regular raccoon.  Regular raccoons suck.
No, not a regular raccoon. Regular raccoons are the worst.

I know that everyone loves Groot, but my favorite character is Rocket.  Groot makes a close second (but more on that in a bit).  There is a problem with this.  Rocket (at the very least, maybe also Groot) is entirely CGI– not even supported with motion capture work ala Andy Serkis in The Lord of the Rings.

I was not ok with this revelation.  There are three Guardians that are played by real people, and I found the talking raccoon to be the best character?  That can’t be right.  Better re-watch.

And on re-watch, Rocket is still the best.

In an old draft on this post, I spent many, many paragraphs talking about acting and CG in acting and all sorts of things that are very much not writing.  I’m a writer.  This blog is about writing.  So, lets just say that Rocket (and Groot) are just as well acted as the rest of the cast and just look at the writing.

When it comes to characters in GotG, everyone gets what I’m going to term as a ‘heroic beat’.  One of the underlying themes is that this is, indeed, a ragtag group of A-holes, but in each character there lies something heroic.  Perhaps its deep down, but it’s there.  Everyone gets a scene where they find that bit of heroism in themselves, and react accordingly.

And these beats are not all written equally.

Of particular weakness is Drax’s beat, which somehow violates “show, don’t tell” in a movie, which feels impossible.  It’s when he realizes that all his actions were really just a mask for the loss he felt– and just sorta announces this to Rocket and Groot.  Yes, it fits Drax’s character to make this announcement.  Yes, the movie points out why it’s stupid a second later.

Gamora has her heroic beat while a lot of other things are happening.  She goes into the Collector’s place ready to sell whatever the orb is (and she knows it’s a weapon) for all the money so she can escape her shitty past. She comes out of the Collector’s place after the Infinity Stone does its ‘wreck the shit out of everything’ thing, ready to go back and get thrown in prison to put the Infinity Stone in safe keeping.  It’s not really shown– she goes in, purple sparkles (more on that in a bit as well)– and comes out heroic.

Quill’s beat is kinda cliched.  He makes the choice to sacrifice his life to keep Gamora alive, and the whole thing is set up the exact same way it’s been set up hundreds of times before.  We see the emotional turmoil as he realizes he can’t just sit there and watch Gamora die.  Yes, it slots in with his character nicely, and the movie makes fun of it later, but still.  

Now, lets look at Rocket and Groot’s beats.  Rocket’s beat is the “beating up a tuft of grass” line.  He wants to let go of these people he sees as a liability, but he can’t.  We actually see him emotionally deal with the consequences of realizing he can’t walk out on this one– with rage.  He hates this new-found compassion in him.  It totally sucks to be a hero.

Groot gets the best beat out of everyone– Groot’s heroic beat comes right as the big black bad ship is falling out of the sky.  The ‘We Are Groot’ line.  The discovery of something heroic to enable his sacrifice.  It’s still a painful moment for him– he starts to cry, after all, being a hero is hard.

It all comes down to seeing the emotional crucible required to go from jackass to hero.  In only two characters do we really see that emotion played out (pssst.  It’s Rocket and Groot.  If you didn’t know.  pssst).  And, part of that is the scenes that were supposed to show a lot of the emotion in two of the three other characters aren’t really written to focus on that.

I might just be too jaded for Quill’s scene.

Could we have seen this emotional turmoil if the characters had been acted better?  Yeah.  The fix could go either way.  This relates back to our Disney film because all of our protagonist’s barriers are emotional ones.  All of the rough stuff we want to throw them through is about making hard choices and living with consequences.

Not that movie doesn’t do cool things with the fact that each character hits the heroic crucible at a different time.  Gamora totally judges the hell out of Quill when he wants to sell the Infinity Stone for money because she’s become heroic and he’s not there yet.  Her moral indignation is actually rather neat.

Now, why do I like Rocket over Groot?  That’s entirely subjective, but mostly because Rocket drinks.

I really don’t want to continue this post, so I’m gonna end it here for now. Perhaps next week I’ll talk about the ending and how GotG’s popularity is a testament to theme trumping logic (because that movie doesn’t even follow its own internal logic).  Or I’ll write some actual script some more and talk about animated Disney things.

What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more…

Romance, man.  I don’t even.

Look, maybe I’m playing up to the lonely writer stereotype (is that a thing?  is it an attractive thing?…. la…ladies?), but I’m not a huge fan of the typical romance plot you see in movies/books/comics/pretty much everywhere.  It just feels shallow and very, very fake these days.  I guess this means I’m not romantic?

Eh, never had the dreamy eyes for it anyway.

Now, the obvious counter argument is, “Seriously?  You’re writing a story where one of your main characters is the hologram of a castle’s AI system, and you’re going to lose your suspension of disbelief on true love?  What kind of monster are you?”

Well, when you put it that way… yes, actually.  One of the reasons why I want to write this screenplay is because the typical Disney love plot drives me up a wall, hissing like the meanest member of your grandmother’s 30 cats.  I can point to two reasons why:

1) Speed.  Oh, you met someone two days ago and want to get married?  Yeah, that’s gonna be good.  Because when people pull those kinds of shenanigans in real life, it’s totally sane and always works out.  Sure.

2) Characterization.  What about Eric gets Ariel feeling all tingly?  We never find out.  Was it his skill at dancing that drew her gaze?  The fact that he was royalty?  The mysterious allure of something forbidden?  The fact that her cave was running out of space and there was no way a merman would ever let her hoard her stuff?  Why did Snow White fall for Prince Charming?  Outside of his name, of course.  Falling love could be a huge character moment– what the protagonists see in each other can be powerful and really lends credibility and believability to who they are.

Now, recent trends in Disney movies have abated these problems somewhat– both Tangled and Frozen end with their protagonists not getting married, but with a kiss and the vague promises of a future date.  Yes, Rapunzel eventually marries Eugene, but we get the important line at the end of the film– “And after asking, and asking, and asking, [she] finally said yes.” (Replacement mine, I don’t want to write extra to spell out the joke).

However, both these films still don’t satisfy me on the characterization side of things.   We get vague hints of it in Tangled, but it still kinda feels like the love by default sort of Disney standard.  Flynn gets characterization through his emerging love for Rapunzel (he finds that what he was looking for was more than just money, freedom or adventure), but, honestly to this day, I’m not really sure why she falls for him.

I think most of her ‘falling in love’ is wrapped up in the kingdom montage, after all, her line to Mother Gothel is, “And… I think he likes me.” (Emphasis mine). Very importantly, it’s not “I think I like him.”  She takes longer to come around, and that’s probably why I like the movie so much.  But we still never really learn why.

See previous posts about my rant on Frozen— it’s very love by default.

Now, enter in the most commonly associated animal with love– the frog.
The_Princess_and_the_Frog_poster
I feel like I might have made that reference wrong.

Anyway, despite the fact that it might be racist, I’m a pretty big fan of the film overall.  Yes, I know that the action slows to a crawl when they get to the swamp.  Yes, Randy Newman is not my favorite composer.

How can I still really like it?  Because Tiana and Prince Naveen have one of the most character driven love stories in all of Disney’s cannon.  I mean, their love plot still moves way to fast (I think it’s a three day meet-greet-marriage?  Certainly no longer than a week).  Both of them are willing to do far, far too much for someone they just met.  I know.

But, Prince Naveen mincing random bullshit he found for Tiana is a more touching moment than anything in Frozen.  Tiana looking at the Shadowman’s vision of her father and realizing what he truly stood for is chilling just to write about.

Both characters have flaws, and it’s only seeing someone else without those flaws do they realize what they’re missing in themselves.  Tiana is not only a strong character in her own right, but it’s her hard work that foils Naveen’s carefree lifestyle.  It’s Naveen’s focus on actually smelling the roses that shows how Tiana is missing out on so much more in the world.

That’s brilliant characterization!  And the movie sticks it in front and center, so you know it was the intent.  By falling in love with each other, the pair learns something about themselves– Naveen is able to find someone that makes him truly happy and Tiana realizes what her father’s dream truly was.

The movie eventually trips on it’s own feet and gets rather sappy towards the end, and again, the fact that it ends in frog marriage makes me facepalm, but in the middle?  That is a love story for the ages.  That’s what love is all about.

That’s how Luna and Ivan should fall in love.  Both characters are both on the run– Luna is running from her future and Ivan is running from his past.  Its their falling in love that drives the character change that lets them find the courage to face their problems and make the hard choices.

Hold on, writing about my screenplay is inspiring me to write my screenplay.  Brb.

Concept Art !!!!!!!!11!!

So, I met with the pretty great Nick Pflug a few weeks ago for some concept art.  He also tumblrs (tumbles?).  Although he’s an animator by trade, I asked for some stills, and being the boss he is, he made some.  I also once played Netrunner at his house for like, 7 hours.

Before you can feast your eyes on the epic amazing that is our (*squeeeee*) art, I’d like to try and keep my inner fangirl on a leash and go into why I asked for art in the first place.  Consider this stage 1 of actually trying to turn this script into something.

First, there is something rather apparent about content that goes viral on the Internet– it’s short.  It needs to grab you in less than thirty seconds and keep you entertained for no more than five minutes.  This is not a place for 100+ page scripts.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So, one of several dreams we have for this project is that maybe we can eventually release a short trailer or an animatic or something– if we’re really lucky, we can have it showcase a song, which is why I’ve asked a composer and another animator to help out.  (if you’re a regular reader, you’ve met them before) We’ll let the result out into the wilds of the Internet.

So, without further ado, I’m gonna slowly let my inner fangir– OMG you guys!  We have art! And it’s just the best!  LOOKIT.  LOOK AT IT.  THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE.  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

1 - Copy 2 - Copy

So, this here are our concept sketches of Luna.  They’re pretty great.  Obviously, Luna’s design is fluid, but there are some cool standouts here– I’m a pretty huge fan of her eyes, which sounds creepy when you say it about a concept sketch.  The ballet inspired shoes are pretty neat too.

There are surprising details that I didn’t think about while writing– Luna has short hair.  Not that her hair length changes any particular part of the script, but it is part of her that I never really considered.

ON TO MORE ART, BECAUSE YAY.

3 - Copy 4 - Copy 5 - Copy

These are our Ivan sketches.  It’s amazing to see his robotic arm finally realized in an actual sketch, considering that part of the finale has Ivan using his arm creatively.  He kinda reminds me of Hans Solo, and I still can’t write him, but at least I know what he looks like when I read Shannon’s writing of him.

All in all, this was one of the greatest Skype calls ever.

 

The Ill-fated Inability To Tell Time

This post was actually going to be about how I tragically pushed two posts out last week, so I wouldn’t have to throw out a substantial post this week, before I realized that wasn’t the case.

Just because two posts weren’t 7 days apart doesn’t mean I missed a week, because my posting schedule falls somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and The Three Caballeros on the regularity scale.

So, I still can’t tell time, but I also can’t use it as an excuse.  Son of a–

headdesk-demotivational-poster-1252553095

Regardless, I do have some blog post ideas, but they need to sit on the back burner for another week before they’re in post-able state.  All of them have to deal with romance, and let me say this right now:
Romance is really hard, you guys.  But, I kinda think The Princess and the Frog nailed it, and I need to rewatch that movie (maybe with a live tweet?  See more at the bottom of this post).

Also, we’re still making progress, although not much writing has been happening.  The Google Drive Crash Beast has been tamed (or at least circumvented), so that should pick up on my end.  The project now has its first concept sketch to it’s name.  I saw it for the first time last week, AND I’M STILL SUPER EXCITED.

I have a sketch of Luna and it’s just the bestest.  I don’t even care that ‘bestest’ isn’t a word.  I AM FIVE RIGHT NOW.

However, I’m hesitant to show it as I think our concept artist(s) want(s) another round of edits.  There are meetings planned to go over what we’ve got.

Script-wise, we’re sitting on something like 60 pages.  Plot-wise, we’re about halfway in Act II, with Act I completely written and about half of Act III written.  I have ideas on how to write the remainder of the script– we need a love scene (think “A Whole New World” or “I See the Light”), a confrontation scene between our protagonists, a pair of “everything is falling apart around me” scenes (Ivan and Luna each get their own), and a rejoining scene where our protagonists team back up to go after our villain.

Then it’s just a resolution scene after the climax, and tada.  Rough draft, complete with obvious continuity errors, an entirely questionable character that needs to get rewritten or cut, and the fact that I haven’t started dealing with the problem of “Princess Luna” already being a pop culture artifact.

devious_princess_luna_by_90sigma-d5ndpps
I’d lie and say that I had no idea, but even you, random server ping from New Zealand, would call bullshit.

Also, 60 pages might sound slim– remember that we don’t have a single song in the script, which should add roughly 15 pages (we have ideas about where songs might go, but no lyrics).  I can see the remainder of the scenes we want taking up about… eh, 15-20 more pages (each scene is about 3 pages, minimum, plus some extra stuff to get everything to line up),  so, really, we’re sitting on around 80-90 pages going into the first round of edits, rewrites and additions.

All in all, this is turning into an actual thing.  Of course, to be an actual actual thing, its time to start engaging in social media for realsies.  One of the dreams for this project is to maybe turn this script into a thing that you watch, rather than read.  The only way I foresee that happening is, well, if people actually want to watch it.

Maybe because I’ve put to much time into it, but I have faith that we have the beginnings of a really great story.  There is a lot of chaff in the rough draft still, but I can see the glimmer of something awesome.  To help me share that, and maybe to bring back livetweets of Disney movies, I’ve started a twitter account for the blog: @writingthemagic

The twitter handle will be used for thoughts I can’t really expand into posts, as well as future livetweets of Disney things… and maybe a place to get suggestions from the crowd if we ever need something like that.

Visual Storytelling

It was only a matter of time before we got here– to the land of things you can not script out but are important for any good film.  Much like Moses and the Promised Land, this is a place I can only view from far away on top of a mountain, never allowed to actually go there.

I want to talk about one far off building that seems to have gotten a lot of traction these days– visual storytelling.  The idea that we can tell large parts of a story not through dialogue, or even action, but in how things look.  Often, we use what’s on screen to augment parts of the plot or highlight particular aspects of characterization.  Sometimes its super subtle.

For example, Carl Up starts the movie with more rounded facial features and after his wife dies, regresses into a bitter old man who also looks more square-ish.  He’s the square peg that refuses to conform to the round hole his life has become– he’s all stuck in his ways and unable to give up the past.  It’s not until that boy scout comes along– who is also more roundish– helps Carl learn and smooth out the edges.

Pacific Rim is the poster child for this as large parts of that film are only told visually, but I only ever saw Pacific Rim drunk at a New Years party, so i can’t actually reference it (or remember large chunks of it, outside of GIANT ROBOT SMASH MONSTER THROUGH BUILDING, HELLS YEAH).  But I can give you an example– Tarzan, and Jane’s attire through the movie.

Jane starts out the movie on the run from stealing Belle’s dancing dress in Beauty and the Beast:
jane--full dress

As the movie progresses, Jane starts realizing that a ball gown is not exactly strong jungle attire, and decides to switch over to the outfit she stole from The Wild Thornberrys:
Jane--level1

Then, while Phil Colin’s croons, Jane realizes that actually, sleeves are horribly restricting and really hurting her ability to get her lady boner on for Tarzan:

jane-- level2

Yet, when it’s time for her to go back to England, the ball gown comes back on:

Jane--level3
However, after Jane finally makes her choice to stay in the jungle, fuck clothes:

jane-- level4

To put it very succinctly: when Jane makes the correct decision according to the movie, she shows more skin.  We can chart her entire character progression based on that.  As she falls in love with Tarzan, and in doing so realizes her place is the jungle, she goes away from formal attire and more towards her mini-skirt/sports-bra combo.  When she decides to go back to England, it’s back to Belle’s clothes with her.

Her trend is far more gradual than Tarzan’s– who goes directly from loincloth to suit and back to loincloth, because this movie isn’t paced super well.  At any rate, you can look at this in a few ways:
1) we are shown Jane’s gradual acclimation to the jungle.  She can pass from England to the jungle because she slowly becomes part of the jungle– she sheds off the layers of high society to become more like Tarzan.
2) we are shown a visual aid to how Jane and Tarzan feel about each other.  As they fall in love, they start to dress more like the other– Jane gradually, and Tarzan all at once.   By the end of the film, they’re in love because they dress the same.

It’s probably the first idea over the second– after all, the movie hardly needs any visual help to show it’s love plot, and Jane comes about three degrees too close to molesting a blackboard sketch of Tarzan long before she drops the sleeves on her shirt.

However, that still leaves us with the thematic problem of Tarzan being unable to leave his place (the jungle) and Jane being allowed to leave hers (England) for reasons that are never shown.  I never said the thematic elements were good, just that the visuals support them.

There is more to dig into here as well– the fact that Jane stole her dress from Belle is on purpose.  The movie is playing at undertones– the story of Tarzan has similar themes to Beauty and the Beast.  Tarzan is a wild gorilla man… sure, he starts higher on the screw-ability curve (unless you’re into that, and from comments I’ve heard about Robin Hood, there are more people into that than you might expect), but there is a theme of Jane bringing civilization, manners and, well, gentleing (ooh, I made up a word) out the wild Tarzan.

Unlike Beauty and the BeastTarzan doesn’t want to focus on how this process brings out other sides of Tarzan’s personality for Jane to fall in love with, because Tarzan decided to use it’s runtime for an extraneous music number about gorillas trashing a camp.

These are probably considerations that’ll get pushed to the back burner in favor of more pressing matters (Guys, how do I write a romance scene for a Disney film that isn’t the most cliched thing ever?  This is really hard), but it is cool to pick up on.

Who knows what I’ll be blogging about next week.

Inspiration from Any Source

Although we’re not done with the rough draft yet, its pretty obvious that there are some things we’ll need to patch up in editing.  One of the most profuse problems (and probably due to the fact that we’re two separate people which highly similar although slightly desperate visions) is a Deus Ex Machina sheen that sorta permeates the entire thing.

As of the current rough draft, we have a lot of important characters and plot elements that appear the moment they’re needed by the plot, then get abandoned like a red-headed stepchild the moment they’ve served their usefulness.  This is mostly due to focus during the rough draft.  Premature optimization is a dangerous thing, in both Computer Science and writing.  Focus on the details too soon, and you’ll miss the forest for the trees.

What I’d like to do (as we edit and polish and all that good jazz) is reference plot elements before they’re actually used, and then bring them back up again when they’re needed.  Elements can also be referenced later on for a joke or a bit of world building or whatever.  I’d like to push us away from looking like a bunch of lazy ancient Greeks and closer to Checkov’s Emporium.

To quote the man himself:
“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
—Anton Chekhov

We need to talk about our rifles more, rather than just having characters pull them out of their butts when required.  So, clearly,  need to look at a master of the plant– a true master of setting things up, a work of fiction so full of references that they’ll plant a plot element only to use it a minute later, something like…

Rick_and_Morty_opening_credits

Oh.  Um.  Avert ye eyes, children!  Tis a dark and dangerous black magik at work here!

Actually, I swear pretty regularly in my posts and have already brought up other not really safe for children material (unless you think graphic ritual sacrifice is family friendly), so… well, time to scar some poor kid for life.

Despite being very, very adult, and very irreverent, Rick and Morty is a master of plants.  Just watch the first minute and a half on an episode (which isn’t actively racist or sexist, so it’s pretty tame):

http://video.adultswim.com/rick-and-morty/ricksy-business.html

That’s a throw-away line that comes in full circle for a joke (and to advance the plot) before we even see the title card.  Clearly, the show’s writers are teaching a master class on what I want to learn.  The big problem is to stop laughing so I can actually pay attention.

My taste in humor is crass.  I’m not proud.

So far, I’ve only seen three episodes, and again, I struggle to turn on the analysis part of my brain when I’m having so much fun, but there is something of a pattern here.  Rick and Morty will drop a line or event that seems almost out of context or just blabble-y.  Sometimes its so random its giggle-worthy just for being so unexpected (I’m pretty sure that’s why Superjail is going on it’s 4th season).  However, that one line will come back as a plot element (usually coupled with some sort of punchline, because this is TV to make you laugh).

However, I really don’t think this is a thing I can template out and plug-and-chug my way through.  I’m sure that there are tons of way to bring up plot elements before the fact, and gracefully slip them in and out when needed.

Meanwhile, i’m gonna go grab a beer and laugh some more.

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!

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”.