Posts Tagged With: bullshit

In defence of traditional martial arts

I want to take a break from my regular scriptwriting rambling to talk about one of my other passions, martial arts. I may find some vague link to writing at the end, but probably not.

If you’re not involved in the world of hitting people for fun there’s a weird running argument online about the value of traditional martial arts, (things like Karate, Kung Fu, Aikido, Taekwondo … etc). The main thrust of the argument is that they’re inherently useless because nothing except for MMA or possibly Brazilian Jujitsu will win a fight. Maybe boxing at a push.

I tend to disagree with this. I’ve trained in a few different martial arts over the last couple of decades, picking up the odd back belt here and there. I’m currently learning Tiger Crane Kung Fu from Neil Johnson in Lewes and will (hopefully) continue to do so until one of us gives up or dies.

One of my black belts is in what the internet deems the ‘most useless’ of martial arts, Aikido. You can never win a fight with Aikido, goes the refrain.

I have two issues with this line of thinking.

1) How do you define useless?

At no point during my Aikido training did I think I would eventually be able to use it to square up to a trained professional in a ring and win a fight. I did it because I enjoyed, because it made me happy, because I made friends doing it, because we used to stop in the middle for a biscuit and a cuppa, because it kept me supple and active, because the black skirt looks like Darth Vader’s, because my Sensei was a lovely, lovely bloke, because … well, lots and lots of reasons really.

It was so clearly not a fighting art that it wasn’t even taught as a martial art, it was taught as a physical philosophy. My classes were intended to be physical exercises which helped promote a way of thinking about life and confrontations. The principles of Aikido work equally well in verbal confrontations as in physical ones and I use them to improve my interactions with people on a daily basis.

As fun as Aikido was, Kung Fu has always been my first love (Lau Gar from Carl Jones in Swansea, Wing Tsun from Paul Hawkes in Crawley and Lau Gar again from Carl Sims in Brighton before switching to Tiger Crane – each change being necessitated because either I or my instructor moved rather than me being fickle!) Kung Fu doesn’t really have a direct translation into English (or so I’m told), it kind of means ‘good health’ or ‘self improvement’ or something like that.

I tend to like the idea of it meaning ‘self improvement’. This, to me, is one of the most important aspects of a martial art. I think humans are happier when their life has direction, that we all need achievement and progression to be happy, whether that comes from work or a hobby. Martial arts help provide that, you’re always working towards something, improving on old skills whilst learning new ones. You have grades or belts to achieve, giving you a way of marking your progress over time.

Kung Fu is a fighting art, yes, but more than that it promotes health, vitality and fitness. It’s good for both physical and mental health, for concentration and confidence. I’ve seen students start a class barely able to look people in the eye but a few years later have the wherewithal to actually interact with humanity.

Fighting is a game for the young, Kung Fu can be practised for an entire lifetime and can help extend that lifetime. I struggle to see this as ‘useless’.

Which brings me to my second niggle:

2) You can’t win a fight with traditional martial arts.

I suspect the problem here is the definition of the word ‘fight’.

What is a fight? Is it two highly trained professionals squaring up to each other in a ring? Or is it someone taking a swing at you in a pub? Is it a shoving match in a takeaway restaurant? Is it a verbal argument? Perhaps one that escalates?

Is it, maybe, all of these things?

Here in the UK we’ve spent the last two years screaming ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘Leave means leave’ at each other without bothering to define what either of those things mean, rendering the whole argument pointless.

A ‘fight’ can be many things. Sometimes several different things in quick succession.

Could a twice-a-week Aikido practitioner hope to win a cage fight against a six-hours-a-day MMA fighter?

Probably not. Almost certainly not, but I guess nothing’s impossible.

Can someone use the principles of Aikido to deflect a drunken swing and immobilise an assailant?

Yes. I’ve done that. Was that a fight?

I’ve also stopped someone hitting me in a night club brawl simply by adopting a Kung Fu fighting stance. The guy in question was charging at me with his fist raised, as soon as I dropped into a fighting stance he stopped, lowered his fist and pretended to be interested in a nearby section of wall before selecting an easier target and hitting him instead. Was that a fight?

I’ve de-escalated a verbal argument which was getting very aggressive and threatening by calmly offering to fight both of the shouters. They backed down and then sent one of their girlfriends to apologise. Was that a fight? Did I win?

Did I win the fight when one of a group of teens attacked me and knocked me over? I performed an Aikido roll and came back up to my feet right in his face … at which point he shit himself and ran away. Who won that one?

None of these things are a ring fight, but all of them perhaps come under the umbrella term of ‘a fight’ in which traditional martial arts were useful. I’ve had people try to punch me and fail because I blocked it or stepped out of the way. Techniques which would never, ever work against a sober, trained fighter work perfectly well on a night out.*

I see people on YouTube debunking all sorts of breakaway techniques by grounding themselves in a firm stance and gripping someone in a completely static manner … and then looking smug when the technique fails. Which is a little bit like someone opining that a hammer is a useless tool because it can’t be used to change a plug.

The correct Aikido technique to use if someone grips you in a solid and completely static grip, tensing their muscles and holding on for dear life is to … wait. Maybe have chat until they get bored and let go? People who grab you with threatening intent will probably try to push or pull you or hit you with the other hand. Either don’t let them grab you or react to whatever else they’re doing. If they’re just holding you without doing anything else then maybe they want to be friends?

Most people I’ve ‘fought’ against in a real situation can barely stand up, not in a martial arts sense. They don’t have perfect footwork, they don’t have a balanced stance and they’re usually drunk. Almost any body movement, trained or not, throws them off balance or makes them fall over.§

I guess the other side of this argument comes from the people who think training a couple of nights a week in a traditional martial art makes them Bruce Lee or Batman or something. The kind of people who go on forums and yell ‘my art’s better than yours’ without ever having trained anything else. Or ‘we don’t compete because our art is too deadly!’ which always smacks of bullshit to me.

Some arts are better for fighting than others, but it’s  really more dependent on the person than the art. Realistically the only way to be great at fighting is to get into lots of fights.

If I have a point at all in this long ramble, it’s that traditional martial arts aren’t useless and they can be used to win a fight, depending on your definition of ‘useless’ and ‘fight’. If nothing else, martial arts should give you an understanding of balance, a stance to work from, the confidence to stand face to face with someone who’s aggressive, an awareness of how people move just before they hit you, a familiarity with being hit and the ability to react rather than freeze.

All of these things are useful, but perhaps not so useful as doing something you enjoy with people you like. I don’t really get into fights anymore. I’m never really in a situation where that sort of thing happens, but I still train because it’s fun and that to me is all the usefulness I need.


* Let’s be perfectly honest here, if you want to win most ‘street’ fights then your best  option is just to stay sober. You’re more likely to see trouble coming, less likely to inadvertently cause the trouble in the first place and it’s far, far cheaper than training all day every day.

Hurts less too.

† If you’ve let someone grip you and root themselves in a firm, static stance then you’ve done the equivalent of letting your opponent in chess take all of your pieces bar the King before you decide to make your first move. Mind you, if they settle into a static grip it’s a bit like they’ve got to that point and decided not to make any more moves anyway.

§ Which I guess is where the oft-touted wisdom of ‘most pub fights end up on the ground’ comes from. They probably do, mainly because neither person knows how to stay on their feet. I don’t want to end up on the ground. It’s dirty down there. I’ll stay standing while the other person sprawls on the floor, thank you very much.

‡ There was a Karate club in Swansea which used to engage in what they called Kingsway Katas on a Friday night after training (The Kingsway being a street with lots of pubs and clubs on it). Basically, under the watchful eye of their Sensei, they would go out after training, get drunk and get into fights. I’ve no doubt they won a lot of these fights … but fucking hell. These are the kind of people who watched The Karate Kid and thought Cobra Kai was a cool club.

I feel they’ve missed the point somewhat, but each to their own.

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No more cheating

It turns out I’ve been making a rod for my own back by actually being good at something which isn’t supposed to be true.

Everyone in the film industry knows that one page of script = one minute of screen time. It’s a fact. It’s how scripts work. Everyone knows it.

Except we scriptwriters who know that’s a load of bullshit.

One minute sometimes = one page … but more often than not, it doesn’t.

A page of one liners will (probably) be less than a minute. A page of monologue might take nearer five minutes to deliver. A page of action … eh, who knows?

So a producer’s insistence on keeping the script to a certain page-count always seems baffling. Why does the script have to be 90 pages as opposed to 95 if those extra five pages will only take an extra two minutes on screen? The audience won’t care. Surely a budget is worked out on the length a scene takes to film, not how long it takes to watch? Surely the budget depends on the type of scene as opposed to its length§?

What’s particularly bemusing is how a 118 page script is too long, but the exact same script, with fewer line breaks and full stops, which comes in at 110 pages is perfectly acceptable.

It’s the same script! Commas don’t show up on screen! Removing them from the script to alter the page count shouldn’t affect the budget!

For years now I’ve assumed this page-count nonsense is just about perception. If the script seems shorter, the producer seems happier so my last pass will always be a series of tweaks to preemptively shorten the script before handing it in.

But here’s the problem: my pre-tweaked drafts (apparently) always follow the one page = one minute rule.

My 95 page script is 95 minutes of screen time. Tweaking it to 90 pages may mollify the producer and the financiers in the short term*, but as soon as the script gets into pre-production and someone puts a stopwatch to it … the truth will out.

I’ve hidden 20 pages of a script before by judicious use of ellipses and parentheticals … only to have kittens when, deep into pre-production, someone figures out the 110 page script is actually 130 minutes long. Being asked to lose a huge chunk of the story when actors have already been cast and I can’t just hack out a complete sub-plot is a spine-chilling experience … but one I’ve brought upon myself by being all smug and sly in the first place.

Knowing how to make one page = one minute may seem like a useful tool, but it’s not useful if I then screw all that up by shuffling punctuation around.

So my New Year’s Resolution is to flip my way of working. Instead of making life easier for myself at the early draft stage and harder at the production-draft end of things, I’m going to be tougher on myself from the outset and actually cut pages instead of commas.

I’ve no idea if this is going to work, but it feels like a path worth taking.

I’ll let you know how I get on.


 I suspect some do.

There’s a correlation.

§  Yes … and no.

* I’m not 100% clear on how this works. I know length can determine budget because of the number of days needed, but I suspect there’s also a need to hit certain lengths for certain genres in order to please the distributors. If anyone wants to ring me up for a chat and explain it, I’m all ears.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Emotions first

 

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I have a nasty tendency when I’m plotting out a script to get too focused on the events. I work out what the beginning and end scenes are and then split the story into quarters, give each quarter a rough title and then start fleshing each quarter out with scenes.

The problem with this approach is it can sometimes leave me with cool sequences I’m very attached to which look great … but don’t really service the character’s journey. Because that’s what a film is: the protagonist’s journey, following along as they learn their most important, life changing lesson.

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No matter how big or blockbuster-y the film is, I want that emotional core. I want it to the story of one person learning and changing and growing (or dying and failing, that works too) … and I want that journey to be integral to the story. I don’t want the story to happen and then the character to suddenly change at the last moment or to change independently of the events. I want the events to alter her worldview, to shape and change how she feels until she’s forced to make a difficult transition which is the only way to meet the challenges of the film.

I don’t care if it’s a superhero film or a small-scale drama. Whatever the story-flesh is, I want it wrapped around a solid emotional-skeleton.

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The problem is, when I start with the flesh I end up with too many arms or not enough legs or a weird lumpy bit in the middle of the stomach which is soooooo cool … but has nothing to do with the main character’s turmoil at all.

So maybe, just maybe, the answer is to start with the emotions first?

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Maybe the way forward is to write down who she is at the beginning, who she has to be at the end and then divide the film up into segments which represent the emotional steps on that journey?

Maybe if I give each step a relevant name, let’s say I’m using the five stages of grief or something, then I know the sequences need to represent denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance*.

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Only when I know what the steps have to mean should I then work out what they actually are. I can construct the physical events of the story around those steps. So it’s not “She has to get the key to unlock the thing!” but “She needs to realise not all people are untrustworthy” and then figure out which bit of action best represents it. That way the emotional change is smooth, it happens gradually and every scene adds to the whole. Every scene can still be funny or cool or thrilling or whatever … but they have meaning, they contribute to the film instead of being diversions.

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Films tend to get written the other way round. Certainly whenever I get a rewrite job it’s usually because the original writer didn’t have (or couldn’t convey) a clear emotional journey, resulting in a script which has good bits in it … but none of those bits add up to anything satisfying. It’s really, really hard grafting an emotional skeleton on afterwards because, obviously, skeletons are meant to be on the inside, baked into the core of the story.

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It also means there’ll inevitably be that conversation with the client where they have a specific scene they’re in love with which has nothing to do with the story they’re trying to tell but looks sooooooo cool. Trying to persuade people they don’t need the thing they love most is never easy, but often the best options are cut it or tell a different story, one where that scene makes sense.

This is often most clear in action films, in the difference between a good action film where every fight scene and set piece changes the protagonist in some way and a bad one where shit just blows up for no reason.

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On the other hand, we all have favourite films where nothing makes any sense and the fact it’s just shit blowing up for no reason is what makes the film so great. So perhaps this emotion-first approach isn’t always needed?

Or maybe those films we love would be even better if there was some point to them?

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Maybe they’re good not because of the script (blasphemy – everything comes from the script!) but despite the script? Maybe it’s a mediocre script which has been acted, directed, edited, lit, dressed and scored well?

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I don’t know. I just know that for me starting with the emotional journey makes the script a lot less painful to write than starting with the physical one.


* You may be of the opinion that these five stages are bullshit. I may be of the opinion you’re right, I may not. Doesn’t matter.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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