Random Witterings

Quadruple whammy

I love my daughter and, like any concerned parent, I want to protect her from harm. Occasionally that protection means telling the odd white lie. I don’t enjoy lying to her, but sometimes it’s for her own good.

So when she came home from school, excited because someone had told her there was a fourth Indiana Jones film, my heart sank. She’s so young! I don’t want her exposed to that sort of thing at such a tender age!

More importantly, I don’t want to have to sit through it ever again.

But she kept asking to watch it and wondering why I’d told her there were only three films and eventually I caved in. Who knows, maybe it’s a far better film than I originally gave it credit for?

So next pizza and movie night we watched it, in silence, all the way through … and at the end she turned to me and said:

“It’s not very funny, is it?”

“Nope,” I agreed, “It’s not very good either.”

“No. Can we not watch that again?”

Which I readily agreed with and we decided never to speak of it. There are three Indiana Jones films and they are all excellent.

But the (nonexistent la, la, la, la, la …) fourth film had left a bad taste in the mouth. Luckily, since then I’ve managed to watch four awesome movies in a row. This is fairly uncommon, there are far more bad movies than good in this world. Mainly because film making is really, really hard and even when all the talent aligns, the arcane hoops they have to jump through to get a film made pretty much ensures it’ll limp over the finish line a shadow of what it was meant to be.

Four great films in a row (great being a term subjective to my personal taste) is pretty damn unlikely, so I thought I’d give you a heads up, just in case you too have been exposed to Indiana Jones vs the Aliens and needed something to cleanse the palate.

These then are what I’ve been enjoying recently:

 

The Babysitter

Cool, funny, stylish and just all round enjoyable. There’s not a lot else to say, it’s fun.

 

Happy Death Day

Perhaps the weakest of the four, but still damned enjoyable. A slasher take on Groundhog Day which knows what it is and is thoroughly unashamed of it. This got me wondering what the horror version of other ’80s films might look like.

Even though Groundhog Day was in the ’90s.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

I can’t remember the last time a film filled me with such glee. Hilarious and stupid with some great action and even greater dialogue. An upmarket Flash Gordon with all the colourful ’80s paraphernalia that entails. Plus, it finally turned me round on The Immigrant Song – previously my least favourite Led Zeppelin track and one of the few I ever skip over.

Obviously ‘least favourite Led Zeppelin track’ still puts it in the top five percent of all music ever created, but it turns out it’s even better if you play it over a Norse god knocking the crap out of baddies.

 

Paddington 2

What can I say? It’s just perfection. The first film was amazing, the sequel is its equal in every respect. Everything about this film is fantastic, from the set design to the lighting, the costumes, the performances, the humour, the pathos, the effects and the nagging feeling I should try to live my life more like a fictitious talking bear.

Paddington sees the good in all of us. Paddington for President of the World.

 

Clearly all these movie opinions are mine and you’re free to disagree with them (that’s not me giving you permission; you just are, it’s a fact) but if you’re feeling a bit blue or just need a dose of awesomeness then maybe you could do far worse than seek them out?

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The other Death Star problem

A while back I was musing over the issue of the baddie continuously doing the same thing, this post … has nothing to do with that. It’s a completely unconnected musing which just happens to share a few words of the title.

A bit like the entire Star Trek canon and Star Trek Discovery.

Recently, someone pointed out (or maybe I read it online? I get confused between real people and the Internet) that the Death Star wouldn’t need a big laser, because merely rocking up in a planetoid-sized spaceship would wreck a planet’s orbit so much it would probably either tear itself apart or go spiralling off into deep space.*

In essence, Star Wars had failed to understand the gravity of the situation.

Damn. ‘The gravity of the situation’ would have been a far better title. Then I wouldn’t have had to have that little dig at Star Trek Discovery. I should probably change it, but then again I should probably do a lot of things, like not eat that massive pile of ice cream five minutes ago.

Apparently some people get really pissed off when a fictitious spaceship rocks up to a fictitious planet in a fantasy story which is barely one step away from dragons and fairies and then said spaceship fails to obey the laws of physics … and hey, I get that.

I understand why it’s important to follow the rules.

I’ve said elsewhere that it’s okay for Daredevil (Affleck version) to have an echo power and super senses, because they’re inherent in the set up … but it’s not okay for him to suddenly sprout bionic knees halfway through the film, giving him the ability to land on his feet after a twenty storey drop with no explanation.

Rules are important. The first half hour or so of a script is estabishing the rules of the universe. Star Wars has spaceships and laser swords and sentient robots and telekinesis … but not teleport. Them’s the rules. If they want to start using a teleport, we have to either see someone inventing it or make damn sure the characters tell us it’s as new to them as it is to us.

We set the rules … but, crucially, we don’t set all of them. Some of them you just have to take on faith. Something like the Death Star’s gravitational pull, well, as an audience member we have two choices:

1) Decide it’s bullshit and it’s ruined the film.
2) Invent our own in-story reason.

Why doesn’t the Death Star’s gravity ruin every star system it travels through? Well, maybe it’s because the Star Wars universe, clearly and demonstrably, has invented some kind of artificial gravity. No one floats around on the Millennium Falcon, so it must have some kind of control over gravity. The Death Star probably has the same tech, so maybe it can also manipulate its own gravity field?

Maybe George Lucas considered this in the seventies and decided it wasn’t important?

Maybe the next time the baddies rock up in a Death Star (because, apparently, that’s all they know how to do) some bright spark will just switch off the gravitational dampers and they’ll all giggle like schoolchildren as the rebel planet gets destroyed by tidal waves?

Maybe I should just assume the acid which blinded Daredevil also upgraded his knees?

Nah. That was just bad storeytelling.

Or maybe it’s not and it’s just personal preference? We tend to forgive lapses of logic in films we’re enjoying, so maybe it’s just not important?

I think our tolerance varies from film to film, but perhaps we should look for plausible explanations before reaching for the bullshit button?

I’ll just leave this one here for anyone who feels the need to click it:


* I’m not convinced that’s true anyway. I’m not sure the Death Star was big enough, but I’ll happily admit I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Oh, maybe they were talking about Starkiller Base?

In which case, the title of this post makes even less sense.

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The story wind and the flappy plot sail

Sometimes, usually about 3.14 in the morning, I find myself imagining the story is wind filling the plot sail. When the wind’s blowing strongly, the sail is full and the film rattles along at a beautiful pace, skimming the waves of … um … I don’t know, character? Interest?

Yeah, okay, I haven’t really thought this through.

When the story wind is blowing, the plot sails are full and all is well. But what happens when you need the story to take a sudden left turn? On a sailing boat …

I know nothing about boats. Why am I making an analogy using boats?

On a sailing boat, when you need to change course … well, I guess you can steer a bit with the rudder (or is it a tiller? What’s the difference?), but presumably that only takes you so far and there’s a point where you need to come about?

I think that’s what it’s called, when you turn into (or away from?) the wind enough for the sail to no longer function and you need to move the … back end of the sail to the other side so the wind fills the other side of the sail.

An experienced, competent writer/sailor can come about (if that is what it’s called?) with minimal flapping and no loss of forward momentum. Bad story telling, to me, is when the story takes a left turn or has a false ending a half hour or so before the actual ending and the plot just flaps about for a bit.

I don’t like that sort of thing.

Except when it works, then I love it.

Ideally, I think the plot sail should stay taut and keep the boat surging forward. Bits of plot flapping around just annoy me. For example:

The character’s inner need/goal should be achieved at the end of the film. Not in the middle. Or after ten minutes. There shouldn’t be a point at which the character achieves everything they wanted … but there’s still forty minutes of movie left, so he/she has a cup of tea and then toddles off to solve the problem without any personal issues or emotional engagement.

Similarly, I don’t like it when there are two stories which have no connection. A plane crashes on an island inhabited by vampires – they have to fix the plane before nightfall!

That sounds cool.

They fix the plane by four in the afternoon on the first day, they have no idea the island is inhabited by vampires so they decide to have a spot of lunch and a swim and they’ll take off in the morning … oh no! Vampires!

That sounds less cool. To me anyway.

I don’t like it when the first story is properly resolved and everyone’s just hanging around waiting for the second story to kick off again.

Although, having said that, I can envisage a kind of Father Ted tone where they realise there’s vampires on the island, race to fix the plane … and manage it in plenty of time. “Gosh, that was easy.” says the protagonist “Can you imagine how terrible it would be to get stuck on this island with all these vampires after dark?”

And then there’s an eclipse.

I can see someone being able to make that work … but outside of knowingly parodying bad storytelling … just don’t let the plot sail flap around. Keep it tight and full of story wind so the boat of … something … um … I wish I hadn’t started this now.

Analogies … make sure you’ve thought them through before you start writing them down.

Or don’t.

Do what you like.

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#PhonePhill – Conversation #17: Dominic Carver (strikes back)

I had a lovely, if brief, chat with Dominic Carver not-so-recently – probably a couple of months back now. In fact, no probably about it – it was ages ago.

NB: This post was written the day after that call … and then I got distracted. I started making a vague attempt to update the tenses so it makes sense … then gave up. Just bear in mind most of this was true five months ago, not necessarily today.

In other words: don’t worry, I’ve been working on your project all day. Honest.

As ever (or for the second time at least) the man was entertaining, erudite and delightful. The brevity was mainly due to half-term child and family commitments*, which are both unavoidable and should never be avoided. What’s the point of being a writer if you can’t slope off to spend time with your kids every now and then?

Dom, as ever (see caveat above) has an exciting array of projects simmering away.

I … well, back then I was having a bit of a lull.

It’s not that there’s wasn’t work out there and it’s not like I wasn’t being offered anything. It’s just … eh … I couldn’t be arsed at that point.

Dom and I spoke about this ebb and flow of ambition. Sometimes you want to write 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as the words burn white-hot in your brain and you find yourself getting furious with your own bladder for occasionally demanding time off to drain itself of the ludicrous amount of tea you’ve tried to drown it in.

Other days … it’s all about the procrastination.

To be fair, most days it’s about the procrastination. Any excuse not to write is a good excuse.

Usually those days will eventually result in some writing.

Usually.

And then there are the periods when the desire to write just evaporates completely. When the burning need to express myself via hitting a keyboard just isn’t there.

Writing is hard. It’s hard to do and then it’s hard to sell and then it’s hard to deal with the notes and then it’s hard to cope with the disappointment of seeing how the production process destroys the story and then it’s hard not to join in with the critics in slagging off your own work.

And then it’s hard having to start the whole process all over again.

Sometimes, usually when I’m generally content with life, it gets hard to want to throw myself back into the mill. You don’t put your nose to the grindstone as a scriptwriter, you get dragged between two grindstones and pulverised.

When life is lovely and fulfilling, when there’s lots of other exciting things to do … well, I just can’t be fucked.

Not that I’ve not been doing any work at all. I have a feature film casting at the moment which is shaping up to be the best thing I’ve ever done with a perfect cast. There’s another feature which is being touted around LA and yet another I’m slowly excavating from the mountain of possibility with a director who started out as a #PhonePhill but is now (probably) a friend.

So there’s three things.

Oh, and the short film which just won’t behave. That’s four.

Then there’s that TV show, the one I feel I’ve been accidentally writing for the last twenty years. The one which feels like its nearly perfect … even though I’ve not written a single word beyond a one page synopsis.

By rights I should be shouldering all other commitments aside to focus on that one … but then there’s that ennui.

Don’t get me wrong – there are flashes of inspiration and perspiration. Moments when I suddenly burst into feverish scribblings … but those are mostly when there’s an interesting casting choice which requires a character tweak or the odd simple paid rewrite job. Those I’m all over. Those I snap to attention and type until my fingers ache.

The rest of it, especially the stuff I’m doing just for me … not so much.

But you know, as was discussed with Dom, those times are okay. Sometimes you care, sometimes you don’t. Always do the stuff people are waiting for … the rest … just don’t be too hard on yourself.

The trick is to know the difference between procrastinating and general demotivation. Procrastination is just silly: man and/or woman up and knuckle down. Demotivation periods … that’s fine. Just do something else. You don’t owe anyone your literary genius and no one will care+ if you down tools for a week or a month or even ten years. Just come back to it when you’re ready.

Or don’t. Find something more fulfilling to do, it’s your life.

Just accept it’s all part of the ebb and flow of a writer’s self-motivation. Beating yourself up to it just leads to depression and anxiety, give yourself permission to slack off.

Them’s my thoughts anyway and Dom seemed to agree. Or maybe I just ranted at him until he had to go spend time with his lovely family? That’s probably it.

Either way, catching up with Dom was cool and yet another enchanting #PhonePhill. If you’d like to have a natter, why not drop me a line at the email address in the sidebar and we’ll arrange a time to chat? Doesn’t matter what your experience level is or whether you’re a writer or not. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you do and however long you’ve been doing it, if you fancy a chat, I fancy listening.


* His, not mine. I’d retreated to my Secret Writing Island to avoid mine. My commitments, not necessarily my family and certainly never for extended periods.

 

+ So long as there’s no one actually waiting for your work. Do that. Always do that promptly and professionally.

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Moving

Oh hello, it’s been a while. Haven’t the months been kind to you? I like what you’ve done to your hair/shoes/teeth.

And so on.

I moved house back in April and blogging seemed less important than unpacking and DIY. I’d like to say I’m back now, but I’m probably not. In the meantime though, here’s a quick video of me moving my office from the old house to the new.

Hopefully see you soon?

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The Death Star problem

I was 10 when I first saw Return of the Jedi and, like the rest of the trilogy, loved it. It was the film I’d been waiting three years for and every frame of it etched itself onto my heart.

But even then, deep in my prepubescent lust for all things Star Wars, I recognised a problem … the second Death Star. The same thing again.

 

I didn’t know what a plot was, but I knew doing the same one twice was … well, a bit shit.

But it also kind of makes sense.

I’ve always found it weird in Batman comics when a supervillain almost succeeds in their nefarious schemes only to be thwarted at the last second by a combination of Batman’s awesomeness and pure dumb luck. It almost worked, if one variable had been different, if Batman had been one second longer defusing the bomb … different outcome. Surely it’s worth giving it another go?

And yet they rarely do.

The Death Star almost worked. If not for that one niggly exhaust port the Emperor would have been cruising the space lanes, giggling like a loon as he blew planets out of the black.

So yeah, put a cover on the exhaust port and try again. Makes sense.

 

Makes sense so long as you don’t think about the economics of it all, but from a character point of view I absolutely believe the Emperor would do it again.

And yet, from a writing point of view … there’s that tinge of shitness to it. That’s my Death Star Problem – when plotting a sequel do I stay true to the character who probably would build a second one* or do I service the viewer and just move on to new evil plots?

I tend to err on the side of newness, but I’m never quite sure that’s the correct answer. Repetition certainly hasn’t harmed Star Wars so maybe I shouldn’t worry about it either?

I don’t have an answer and I guess like most of these things it’s either down to personal preference.

Or it’s execution dependent.

I have no idea. What camp are you in?


* But not a third. Doing the same thing a third time is just stupid.

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We interrupt this blog …

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… for some politic musings.

Like many writers I tend to be left-leaning in my political views. I tend to ascribe to notions of equality and fairness and eschew racism and prejudice in all forms. I’m by no means perfect in that pursuit, but I aspire to improve, to understand and above all to change the world through words and reason.

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So like many people I too am appalled at what’s happening in America at the moment. It’s inconceivable to me that a racist, misogynist moron can become president. That a man who’s bankrupted every business that doesn’t rely on writing his name on a building and walking away can be in charge of a complex web of lives and destinies.

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Like many people I feel action must be taken to limit the damage he does before his vindictive stupidity pushes the whole world beyond the point of no return … and yet I’m also appalled at the way people are choosing to voice their concerns.

When Jeremy Clarkson punched his producer, people were (rightly) outraged, yet when someone punches alt-right Nazis, they applaud it.

Violence is not now nor has ever been the answer.

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Calling out Trump’s behaviour, his racism, his intolerance is our civic duty. Calling him names, like I did above, is in no way helpful and does nothing to help the cause because (and this is really important) 59 million Americans believe Trump is the man who’s going to save them.

Calling him names is calling them names and no one likes to be called names.

I firmly believe Trump is wrong in almost everything he says. When he is occasionally right it’s because he’s lying and saying what he’s been told people want to hear. There’s one phrase I find particularly incorrect, one he’s used to justify his Muslim ban: fighting fire with fire.

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This is wrong. You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water.*

When people are getting angry and aggressive, you calm them down. You listen to them, you address their concerns and, where appropriate, you educate them.

Calling them names and punching them does not help.

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Donald Trump is the symptom of a far deeper problem here, namely a broken and corrupt system designed to protect inequality and prevent social mobility. All of the money in the world funnels upwards leaving nothing at the bottom. All of our businesses and corporations are run for the benefit of shareholders instead of customers or employees. No one owns anything so there’s no one to complain to, there is no Mr Vodafone or Mrs Tesco to care if their companies don’t work properly or screw people over. The employees are paid very little, the CEOs just slash and burn before moving on to a competitor or a completely different field.

No one cares and there’s no one to complain to.

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Politicians have degraded themselves to the point where no one has any faith in them or believes a word they say. Decades of political corruption, sleaze and scandal has undermined any faith the public has in these people whilst at the same time the press has undermined faith in science – the very fabric of our society, the ability to think and the reason why we’re not sitting in caves freezing to death. Science is a method of proving something does or doesn’t work – that’s it. The opposite of science is guessing or lying and yet the papers would have you believe scientists can’t be trusted, that science itself is somehow fundamentally wrong about everything.

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Globalisation should be our future. We started off as tribes and then villages and then city-states. We banded together until each county had a king. Then the counties merged until we had countries, then conglomerations of countries, then whole continents under the same governance. There are pluses and minuses to this merging of borders and cultures and ideas. One downside is the intermediary step of businesses being free to move their factories to the cheapest labour force or to import the cheap labour to their location. This can either be stopped by closing the borders or by bringing all people of the world onto an even footing. New things can be scary, but just as people in Surrey no longer fear people from Sussex or think of them as strangers, the world can become a united people. This middle ground we’re in now is painful and scary for some people, especially people closer to the bottom of the pile.

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Out of this maelstrom of chaos and lies and poverty, Americans were offered a choice – keep everything the same or choose a man who claims to offer something new. Despite the fact Trump doesn’t offer anything new, despite the fact he’s an integral part of the system which keeps people poor, despite the fact he admits his campaign promises were lies, despite the fact he admits he sexually assaults women and even brags about it, despite all that he represents change in the minds of his followers and believers.

They aren’t all racist or stupid and yelling at them won’t help change their opinion.

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And here’s an uncomfortable thought. Removing Trump, assassinating him, impeaching him, declaring his presidency null and void will be a massive middle finger to the 19% of Americans who voted for him. They see him as their President. They believe he represents their interests and wishes and hopes and dreams. Take that away from them and how will they react? Depression? Despair? Anger? Violence? Revolution?

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Trump cannot be allowed to curtail the freedom of whoever he chooses. He cannot be allowed to remove the civic and human rights of people he doesn’t like. He cannot be allowed to impose his will and agenda on others based on nothing more than a whim or half-remembered ‘facts’ he saw on the TV … but equally, perhaps he needs enough rope to hang himself? Perhaps he needs to be given the time and the room to prove he has no one’s interests but his own at heart because whereas he’s clearly a buffoon, he’s a buffoon who’s learnt to push people’s buttons and if we don’t allow those people to understand how dangerous that manipulation is then who will manipulate them next?

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If you take hope away from desperate people, people who feel Donald J Trump is their best and only option, if we take away their hope before they get to see the truth behind his lies … then what comes next will be worse.

Obviously this is a dangerous game, allowing him to mess with a world he doesn’t understand, but maybe allowing an idiot to smash a broken system will lead to something better forming in its place?

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Or maybe not.

Probably not.

I do think calling his followers and supporters names, or punching them is not helpful. Listen to what they have to say, listen to why they think he’s their saviour. Engage with them, disagree with them and by all means call out racist, sexist or hateful language when it crops up, but do it in a noninflammatory way. Don’t divide the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is no ‘them’, ‘we’ are all there is. All of us are ‘us’, in it together for the long haul.

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The best path to peace, tolerance and understanding is to be peaceful, tolerant and understanding.

If you disagree with me, please debate me. Don’t abuse me or threaten me, use your mind to change mine. Use your words to change the world for the better.

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† Save them from what is unclear. Presumably save them from mixing with anyone who isn’t them or from immoral capitalists. You know, people like Donald Trump.

* Okay, technically you can fight fire with fire such as demolishing buildings to stop a fire from spreading … but that’s not really the point.

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Ever changing

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Imagine you’re a co-pilot for an airline. You get to your hotel, get changed and head down to the bar. The captain comes down wearing a dress – what do you do?

This is/was a psychology question given to pilots. Have a think about what you’d do, the answer is at the bottom of the post.

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On a different note, I went to see Doctor Strange the other day and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Okay, so it’s not a GREAT film … but then I feel like I’m past that point with Marvel movies now – there’s too many of them for them to thrill, but I find them all to be of a consistently high, enjoyable standard.

Watching the movie I was thinking about Tilda Swinton (who occupies a particular spot in my affections for reasons I can’t quite remember. Every time I see her in a film I feel like she’s a friend who’s doing incredibly well for herself, even though I’ve never met her – I have no idea why) and the brief furore about her playing The Ancient One.

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Obviously the Internet likes to get wound up about stuff like this, often going from standing apathy to outright, insult-flinging indignation in mere seconds … but what I found interesting about this one was that the fuss wasn’t about changing The Ancient One’s gender, but his/her ethnicity.

And I thought, isn’t that interesting?

No one seemed to object to the character being played by a woman (maybe because Tilda Swinton is unspeakably awesome?) but because s/he’s meant to be … actually, I don’t know. Tibetan? Chinese? Mongolian? I have no idea.

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I guess the reason this was a brief furore was because Doctor Strange is fairly unknown character (amongst non-comic fans)?

White-washing the character seems wrong, but should Marvel be given points for rebalancing the genders? Maybe they could have gone further with that? We have a female Thor in the comics now, so why not start off a female Doctor Strange in the movies?

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And then my mind began wandering (not during the film, afterwards). I began thinking about Nick Fury and how they’ve changed his appearance in the comics from this:

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To this:

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Sort of. I know it’s technically his son (because that makes sense) but it’s pretty much all because Samuel L. Jackson is now so firmly established in our minds as Fury that people are confused when they see a fluffy-haired white guy in the comics.

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Okay, so once again he’s not a widely known character in the vein of Superman or Batman or Spiderman. He’s not a cultural icon, but I’ve known him as a character in comics since I was a kid and I can no longer imagine him as white. If I pick up an old comic and see the white version my first thought is “Who’s that?” followed very quickly by “Oh shit, yes, that’s Nick Fury.”

I find that interesting too. I like that my attitude has changed.

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Once upon a time (not that long ago) I would have consider a black Superman to be just plain wrong. Superman’s not black, he’s white!

Now … I don’t care. I still want him to be tall, impossibly handsome and ripped … but skin colour? I just don’t see how that’s important?

Chinese Batman? Yeah, sure … so long as he’s big and buff and has a nice chin, what does it matter?

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Female Batman? Don’t know. Maybe that’s odd given the actual name of the character? Same for Superman, Spiderman et al.

But a female Doctor Who?

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Yeah, bring it on.

A few years back I’d have said that was impossible. Time Lords get married and fall in love, they would get really pissed off if they woke up to find their wife had become a man over night (or vice versa).

Now my attitude has changed. We already live in a time where our perceptions of gender are being challenged. Gender, like sexuality, is more fluid and layered than has always been held to be true. Surely an advanced civilisation millions of years ahead of us will just do that as a matter of course?

 

My attitudes towards these sorts of things* have changed. I’d happily watch a black, female James Bond. Might be wonderful, might be terrible – who knows?

A while back I wrote this blog post on sexism by design – now I look at that and think … what was the problem? I’d happily write a male protagonist fighting a female antagonist now. Wouldn’t even occur to me it was a problem.

I get that some white men feel under threat, as if all movies now are being made about women or people of colour or LGBTQ characters. We’re under-represented, damn it! Where are our movies?

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Oh do fuck off.

The default is still white male, let other people have a go.

My favourite illustration of that comes from somewhere I can’t remember. It was designed to highlight the lack of people of colour in movies (I think?) but it holds true for all ‘minorities’:

Imagine two bowls of sweets. One bowl is full to the brim, this is the bowl for a white child. The other bowl has two sweets in it, this is the bowl for a black child.

Does that seem fair?

Now imagine taking one sweet out of the white bowl and adding it to the black bowl (or gay bowl or transgender bowl or … whatever, doesn’t matter). Now imagine the Internet going fucking nuts because someone dared to make an all-female Ghostbusters.

Guys, our bowl is still full. It’s fine.

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Attitudes are changing and that’s a great great thing. Everyone should have movie-heroes, someone to aspire to be like.

I tend to include more female, poc or LGBTQ characters in scripts now. Often I just write an outline and assign gender/sexuality randomly throughout because it doesn’t really matter unless the story demands something specific.

At the moment I skew more towards female leads than male because the field needs levelling … but not always.

Variety is a good thing.

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Change is a good thing. Challenging perceptions is a great thing.

Which leads us back to the original question:

Imagine you’re a co-pilot for an airline. You get to your hotel, get changed and head down to the bar. The captain comes down wearing a dress – what do you do?

The answer ten years ago was: ask her what she wants to drink. People hear ‘captain’ and they picture a man.

They shouldn’t.

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The answer now is maybe more complicated. Maybe it’s a man in a dress? Maybe it’s a someone undergoing a transformation? Maybe it’s none of your business?

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I like these kind of changes. I like acceptance and tolerance and understanding. I love that my attitude has changed and continues to change. I want to grow as a human being and increase my understanding of the world … so if I’ve used the wrong word or inadvertently offended anyone in this post, I’d love to hear from you.

Alternatively, if you’re upset by people and lifestyles other than your own becoming more acceptable in mainstream media then … don’t worry? You’re still special too.

 


* And by ‘these sorts of things’ I mean a wide range of completely different human experiences and states of being which only get lumped together because of the intolerance of others.

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings, Someone Else's Way | Leave a comment

The thread of desire and the candle of knowledge

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I’ve been thinking about different ways of driving a story, about how we keep an audience leaning forward in nail-biting tension, wondering what happens next … as opposed to lolling in the seat looking at background details and wondering if they remembered to take the chops out of the freezer.

Two techniques I use are the thread of desire and the candle of knowledge.

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The thread of desire is the protagonists goal and/or need. What does she want? What’s stopping her getting it? Hopefully part of what stopping her get what she wants is her own personality which won’t change until she gets what she needs. Possibly she may then discover she doesn’t want the thing after all … unless the thing is some cheese to fight the Nazis.

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Then she probably will still want it.

The thread of desire pulls the protagonist through the movie and us with her. So long as it remains taut and present in every scene, we’ll follow along. Every scene should be (at its core) about the protagonist crawling painfully along this thread towards her goal. Sometimes the thread leads to a dead end and the protagonist has to back track, sometimes we switch to the antagonist and see them interfering with the thread …

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… but it’s always there.

Okay, so we can have scenes which don’t feature the thread, but I think they need to be few and far between because, essentially, these scenes aren’t part of the story we’re telling. Annoyingly these scenes can often be the funniest or otherwise best scenes in the film … but too many of them and people lose interest.

Rock of Ages had this problem for me, it set up a couple of clear threads with a love story and a desire for fame/success … and yet there are lots and lots of scenes about Tom Cruise’s character. Lots of them. Very funny scenes with great songs in them … but the threads and the protagonists are nowhere to be seen.

The result, for me, was a film full of great scenes which would have been far better if a lot of them had been chopped out.

Just follow the thread.

Or threads. The love story is often a second thread which intertwines with the first. Sometimes that’s the thread of need as opposed to the thread of want, often we feel both these threads will resolve at roughly the same time. Hopefully at the end of the film.

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Captain America: The First Avenger is one of those films where the thread of desire is resolved about an hour before the film ends. We follow Steve Rogers on this journey to become Captain America … and when he gets everything he ever wanted … there’s still another hour of film to go. The film would have been more satisfying to me if the thread had resolved at the end.

Okay, so there were still Nazis who needed punching … but it’s not as emotionally satisfying without that thread.

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The thread of desire isn’t too difficult to weave into a story, because it is the story. If you don’t know what that thread is, then maybe you don’t know what your story is? If you can’t point at the thread in any given scene, maybe that scene doesn’t belong in the story?

The candle of knowledge, on the other hand, is a tricky beast.

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Most films (maybe apart from sequels?) begin with the candle of knowledge. We begin each film in the dark – who is it about? What is it about? Why is it about them? All we have is questions …

Unless you’ve seen a trailer which neatly summarises the first act … in which case we’re passively watching how knowledge is given out rather than actively gathering the knowledge ourselves.

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But assuming we don’t know anything and are experiencing the story in the way it was intended to be experienced, the script is the candle which illuminates the darkness of ignorance. Every time it shines on something we gain a little piece of information.

This story’s about a man.

He works at a dentist’s office …

Oh, but he’s not a dentist …

The edges of the light, the gloom, is where our curiosity lies … what’s that thing at the edge of the light? If he’s not a dentist, why is he dressed like one? Our curiosity keeps us interested, it keeps us peering at the edges of the light, at the darkness just out of sight, waiting to be illuminated.

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Memento is a great example of this – there is almost nothing to that film beyond curiosity about what happened to get us to this point. The scenes themselves aren’t particularly interesting if you know exactly what came before … but we don’t and it’s that ignorance, our curiosity about the darkness and what it contains which keeps us interested.

Most films begin with the candle of knowledge and then hand over to the thread of desire, keeping just enough in the darkness to keep us interested. Some are pure thread, like action movies – they don’t always need a twist or a surprise piece of information so long as the thread remains taut and it’s going through the most difficult terrain imaginable for the protagonist.

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If our action hero wanders off in the middle of the story to do some shopping for things which have no relevance to anything … it may be funny, but equally it may be boring.

Murder mysteries rely more heavily on the candle, but maybe the best of them have a thread running throughout too?

I find relying on curiosity to retain interest to be a dangerous game because you’re relying on the audience not finding the light switch. As soon as they figure out what’s going on, the lights are on and the candle is useless.

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Unless there’s a power cut, which in terms of this metaphor is … um … something. I don’t know. Nor do I know how to end this post. I should probably just write something pithy and stop.

Something pithy.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public grief

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Towards the end of the last Millennium I was a young whipper snapper who’d just started a job. A proper job, mind you. One where you actually had to do things and interact with people, none of this hide-in-my-room-with-my-imaginary-friends nonsense.

Day two (or perhaps three, I forget) of the initial training course I came into the room early one morning to find everyone in tears.

Everyone.

Great wracking sobs of grief.

“What’s happened?” I asked, realising something truly awful must have happened to have so deeply affected such a diverse group of people.

“Haven’t you heard?” came the reply “Diana’s dead.”

“No!” I exclaimed, scanning the room for an empty chair … “Which one was Diana?”

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Now you may think it’s blatantly obvious they meant Princess Diana, but this was pre-instant-news-to-your palm-smartphones and almost pre-internet. At that time in the morning I hadn’t seen, heard or read the news. Given everyone in the room was crying, I immediately (and erroneously) assumed it must be one of the people we’d all met the day or so before.

But no. It was the Princess of Hearts.

“So … why is everyone crying?” I asked. Because (and you may or may not remember or agree with this) before her death, Diana wasn’t the Princess of Hearts, she was the feckless whore who was threatening to steal the heirs to the crown and spirit them out of the country with her Johnny Foreigner lover.

At least, that’s how the papers portrayed her.

So why was everyone crying? Why was the death of someone so vilified in the papers the cause of floods of tears?

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I still don’t know. I think it’s sad when anyone dies, but there are very few people I’d shed actual tears over because … well, I just don’t know them. The exceptions would be Christopher Reeve (because he was my hero when I was six) or Douglas Adams (because he was my most favouritest author ever since, like, forever).

Although I never met them, their work touched my life and (I think) improved it. They meant something to me.

Princess Diana – yeah, I felt sorry for her family, but I didn’t know her … at all.

And yet the streets were awash with very public grief.

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Nigh on 20 years later and Twitter is awash with grief when anybody vaguely famous dies. Friends who I’ve never heard even mention David Bowie, let alone listen to his music, were distraught after his death. On social media, that is … not so much in real life.

2016 has been a public griever’s playground. Every month someone of note has (sadly) passed away … and every month people fill my Twitter and Facebook timelines with heartfelt distress and incredibly public mourning.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand what it’s like when someone who meant something to you dies. It is sad and does feel like a piece of you has died with them. I get it, I really do. I have friends (both real and online) who mourn the passing of Bowie or Prince or Ronnie Corbett or whoever because they genuinely meant something to them. They write little online eulogies because it helps them express their grief and the results can be beautiful and, occasionally, makes me wonder if I should perhaps re-evaluate the artist’s work to find out what it is they saw in that person.

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And maybe having R.I.P. insertnamehere trending on Twitter makes the families of the deceased feel better. I don’t know.

So far this year, the only person whose passing made me a properly sad (as opposed to “oh, that’s a shame”) was Paul Daniels. Jason Arnopp and I were reminiscing a few days before he died about how good a magician he was and how he kick-started our interest in magic.

And yet Paul Daniels got unfairly swept up in the wholesale dumping of traditional entertainers during the eighties. The old guard got swept away in a torrent of radical newness … and that shouldn’t have happened.

Yes, some entertainers were sexist and crass. Some merely committed the crime of being warm and cosy and didn’t swear or punch things. They were old, we were all about the new. Paul Daniels was one of the babies thrown out with that bath water and he didn’t deserve that. He was an amazing magician and a fantastic entertainer in the true sense of the word.

I loved Paul Daniels … but I didn’t feel the need to rush out a Tweet or blog letting everyone know.

I’m not sure if that makes me a better person or a worse one. Probably worse. My sad face is just for me.

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Except when it’s not, for if I’m anything it’s contradictory.

Recently I remembered that Douglas Adams wasn’t always my favourite author. I was introduced to him by Miss Seaman in the last year of Coten End Middle School when I was ten or so. From then on Douglas Adams’ work had a significant effect on my life … but he wasn’t the first.

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Before Douglas Adams, there was Nicholas Fisk. I don’t know who turned me on to his work, but I loved it and consumed it voraciously. His shelf was the first I scoured in the library, on the off-chance he had something new out. Or something old I hadn’t read yet. Starstormers was a particular favourite of mine. As was A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair. Grinny is still my go-to cuckoo story, more so than The Stepford Wives or The Midwich Cuckoos.

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Nicholas Fisk steered me deep into sci-fi waters and became my gateway author to Heinlen and Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov and Harry Harrison and even Terry Pratchett. Without Fisk, there probably wouldn’t have been any Douglas Adams in my life … and that would be a great shame.

Somehow I’d forgotten Nicholas Fisk, sold or lost all his books and even stopped really reading sci-fi all together.

Last month I suddenly remembered him. I can’t tell you why or what caused his name to resurface, but I suddenly remembered I had a favourite author as a child. How could I have forgotten? Maybe I can read his books with my daughter? Maybe she’ll love them as much as I did?

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And then, yesterday, I found out Nicholas (or David Higginbottom as I learnt he was called) has just passed away. Sometime last week at the age of 92.

He didn’t die tragically young or while he was still writing and had so many more stories to offer … but, you know, he was a large part of my childhood and even if I had forgotten him, I’m a bit sad that he’s gone. Deaths like his nibble away at our past and bring the darkness of non-existence that little bit closer.

Like I say, I’m not one for public grief (although I’m dreading the day I see Tom Baker’s name all over my feeds – hopefully that day’s a long way off) but just this once I want to shed a single, public tear for a man who meant a lot to me all those years ago.

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Rest in peace, Nicholas.

Categories: Random Witterings, Two steps back, Writing and life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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