Tag Archives: sci fi

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.

_____________ Waltz (working title)

We might be bad at titles.

Progress on the writing front continues.  Slowly.  I blame the speed of writing on this being the last two weeks of school before the summer.  But, I’m here to talk our fairy tale of choice, how that choice helped us start to flesh out a character and how our setting is totally not related to anything.

However, I have other cool things to talk about– I’ve asked a friend who is an aspiring composer to see about writing some music for us.  As we’ve covered here, Disney movies work on a strong emotional level, and as such, I wanted to bring in a composer as soon as we had the fairy tale and setting nailed down.  More on that front later in the post.

In addition, I have a tentative ‘yes’ from another friend who does pretty pictures that move.  This job is more colloquially known as an ‘animator’.  No, we’re not going to try and do an entire movie, because that is madness.  Therein lies the abyss, and as Nietzsche wrote, “..as you gaze at Disney princesses, they gaze back at you.”  Or something like that.

The reason behind this is that some concept art and concept music will probably influence the writing.  Maybe that’s not a thing you worry about with screenplays, but as stated before, I’m not the part of this collective with a film degree.  Plus, the more people I can get excited about this project, the greater chance I have of convincing people I’m a high functioning adult.  Also, the greater chance this turns into something even more awesome than an epic script.

So, it’s past time I started actually talking a bit about what we’re writing.  We will be adapting the Grimm fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses (TDP for the rest of this post.  Blame all the academic writing I’ve had to read recently).  The merchandising potential should be immense.

Shannon and I both compiled a top three list fairy tales, in no particular order, and one honorable mention.  Both our lists contained the same tales– TDP, RumpelstiltskinPuss in Boots, and The Brave Little Tailor.

I promise you we aren’t the same person.

Anyway, I pushed for TDP over the other films because 1) both Puss in Boots and Rumpelstilskin have been done to varying degrees recently and 2) The Brave Little Tailor seemed trickier to adapt.

So, what’s important in TDP?  What can’t we, as adapters, change?  Why has this tale been handed down through time, and adapted for countless cultures?  Hm, tough question.

Well, the most obvious examples of things that need to be in the Disney movie are in the title– there are twelve princesses, and they are going to dance.  There is really no way to adapt this tale and not have either of those things present.  In particular though, we get some help from the tale– ten out of twelve princesses can be foils/background characters.  We only need to focus on two of them, the youngest and oldest.

I’ve settled on some names to call them while we hash out plot details– Luna is our oldest, Cassiopeia is our youngest.  All of them have names vaguely related to celestial bodies that also have Russian/Slavic roots (well, Luna has its roots in Latin, but it’s also the Russian word for moon).  You’ll see why the roots are important later.  The names are almost certainly subject to change as we keep writing.

The fairy tale is told from the perspective of a male protagonist.  I don’t see this as an essential element of the tale, but it’s certainly a perfectly fine place to start.  Besides, it’s a fairly unique perspective for a Disney movie.  I’m not denying Aladdin exists, I’m just saying that there are more Snow Whites in the library.  That brings our number of characters up to three– a male protagonist and primary point of view, the oldest princess and the youngest princess.

The other really important thematic element is shoes.  The give away for the princesses sneaking off to dance every night is their footwear– shoes are to this tale what the lamp is to Aladdin.  

The other thematic elements are harder to pin down– most of the fairy tale has curiosity as a motivation for characters.  The downside is here is that curiosity is not a very strong motivator– think of Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  When she goes to explore the west wing, she’s spitting in the face of danger for no better reason than, “But what does this button do?”

I’d claim that curiosity works best as either supplemental motivation, or as a way to get a character to trigger a good inciting incident.  Ariel doesn’t trade her fins for legs because she’s curious about the human world, she does it because her curiosity helped her to fall in love with prince Eric.

Alice in Wonderland, for another example, starts with curiosity being the driving force behind Alice’s actions– she has an insatiable need to know what the rabbit is late for (… did I just do innuendo there?  I feel like I did).  Her curiosity slowly brings wisdom in the trippy-est sense of the word, and transforms into a desire to get back to reality as she finds out that her fantasies don’t always work out for her.

Heeeeeeeey.  Wait a minute—

Let’s not deal with curiosity, but the deal with the knowledge that curiosity brings.  If you want to go poking at the edges of a bit of fabric, the whole thing can start to unravel on you.  What if it does?  What if you learn something you can’t keep to yourself, and that knowledge forces you to act?  What if it’s the last thing your sisters want?  What if it turns your whole world upside down?  What if it makes you do something hard?

Oooh.  Luna is starting to shape up into something character-like.  So, what is she curious about?  What does she learn?

Well, the nightly dances seem to be an obvious place to start.  Clearly, the princesses enjoy them in the tale, so what if they were malicious in some other, unknown way?  Through the course of the tale, then Luna is going to learn about some dark design behind the dancing, and will have to reject her nightly bliss to do the right thing.  She’ll have to reject the fantasy and face the reality.

Yeah, it’s pretty Lion King.  I said this was rough, didn’t I?  What is the sinister plot?  Umm.  Magic?  We’re working on it.

Speaking of magic, our setting is a futuristic Russia.  I told you it wasn’t related to anything else.  Most of the motivation here was just, “what hasn’t Disney done?”., with the follow-up, “What hasn’t Disney done well?”

The idea is to invoke the shit out of Clark’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from [Disney] magic.  As such, we’re going to go in the other direction than something like Terminator or Deus Ex.  This isn’t a gritty future, this isn’t hard sci-fi based on actual science of today.  This is a whimsical, magical future.  This is the future of Meet The Robinsons.

But maybe not with that much whimsy, because holy shit does that movie has whimsy.  That about wraps up all I wanted to talk about, so that’s what– a character teaser and some setting information?  Sounds about as much as you’d get from a teaser trailer.

Anyway, on to other things!  The composer who I’ve asked to write pretty music (or not pretty music, if that’s what this script needs), is Kaelee, who is based somewhere out of the greater Seattle Metro area.

You can listen to selections from her work in progress musical, Starshine, on YouTube here.  The track linked in question is “What I Am”, and is pretty goddamn fantastic.

The animator is Steven, who might be the most Internet famous of all of us because he’s made it to io9.  He’s currently doing animation things in Los Angeles, and I’ll be sure to edit in a referral link as soon as I remember to ask for one.

June should be a very fruitful month for writing, as we actually get a real outline on the page and maybe even a first draft (so all these other fantastic people have the ability to work with something more than our outline of questions divided into acts).

Tune in next week for a hopefully more complete post about our protagonist, or maybe our villain, or maybe the youngest princess or maybe more on our setting.  Or maybe how Answer Set Programming should be combined with genetic algorithms, if I get tired enough and have both the blog and my class notes open at the same time.