Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Change of Plans

A very special package arrived today - as in SEASON 7 of CSI! How long have I been waiting for this? Naturally, dear old Jimmy Stewart has been put on hold for this momentus occasion.

It's significant for more than the obvious reason, which would be NEW Liev.

We used to be huge fans of CSI and would not miss an episode. Then, in 2005 my Mom was diagnosed with dementia. She had always been kind of squeamish (says the girl who holds a pillow for the entire show). But for some reason as the disease took over her mind (and turned her into someone else) the graphic stuff no longer bothered her and she took a real liking to the show.

I do recall that she enjoyed Liev's character, saying he was "dark and interesting." I missed Season 7 as I was always doing respite care those nights. I haven't really been able to watch the show at all since.

Here's a great opportunity for me to cozy up to my Mom, as she was, all the while studying Mr. Liev.


Internal Conflict: The Bitch to Pitch

Many people watch a  film and feel deeply moved ~ and they're not sure why. Something resonated, leaving them satiated, or righteous or at least understood. That's because some genius tapped into not only what makes you you, but also what makes me me. No one writes for an audience of one (except diarists, I guess).

For me, ideas have never been the problem. There are a million hooks and arcs and concepts swimming around in this brain plagued with unused potential (according to Mademoiselle Gracien - Grade 2). After flushing out the world's greatest outline, I'm ready to work on the core of this latest screenplay.

Years ago when this passion was just a nugget,  I was in Los Angeles and purchased the entire inventory of The Writer's Store. Seriously. These were my pre-Final Draft days and I was looking for format guidance, so that I would not go too far astray and let the maladroit, creative side spew out something unfit for professional consumption. As I've continued to read these books, I see that in fact they are hindering more than helping. For example, each one has a chapter devoted to Writer's Block. Freaking right out, over here! I've never been encumbered by such a curse. Then I get paranoid and think, oh Lord, what happens if it strikes midstream of something wonderful and amazing? These books say it happens to everyone, it's totally normal, just work through the pain.

The next thing I find is the focus on pure readability. It would seem that for a professional to enjoy your story and it's incredibly tight plot, there must be bad guy. The cause of the conflict must have a face, a weapon, a motive and plan. It's in every one of these books. Not one of them mentions internal strife. Not one of them talks about an inner struggle being the central conflict to the story.

What if your story's evil demon is in fact YOU? Have I created a self-fulfilling prophecy, here? Am I doomed to never get this latest thing where I want it because of, shudder, myself?

D.B. Gilles, Jennifer Lerch, Linda Seger, Pamela Douglas, Ellen Sandler, Madeline Dimmagio, Karl Igelsias, Dade Hays, Jonathan Bing, Edward Jay Epstein and Marilyn Horowitz all believe in me. Well, their books believe in my ability to do well if I just really listen to them.

I return time and time again to enjoying the same kinds of films because for me internal conflict is where it's at. What evil foe did Will Hunting battle? His worst enemy, the thing that was holding him back was himself, of course. When did Loretta Castorini face down an attacker? She didn't - but she did grapple with her own struggling self over marrying Johnny, the stable Camareri, or admitting to tempetuous but true love with his brother Ronnie.

There's nothing I hate worse than bad exposition; being forced to swallow a story for timing's sake. Gag. It's a real pet peeve and something I tend to look for when watching any movie, like some sort of twisted hobby.

Beautiful exposition, on the other hand, is so subtle you can easily miss it. That's when I start really paying attention. My favourite example of late is (as you all know) is Spring Forward. Paul's internal conflict is introduced 100% through exposition. We know everything we need to about him through the uniquely seamless blend of Tom Gilroy's message and Liev's delivery. If the scene where Paul tells Murph about his father (at Bobby's funeral) had never occured, we would still know what we known about Paul and his life growing up without a decent role model.

Long before he reveals his father's cruel words, we know:
  • He reads books about "men's souls" a lot = he is searching for meaning and guidance about being a man.
  • He starts off explosive and slightly combattive = he's had to put up with a lot and is not at the point where he can laugh whimsically about it building character just yet.
  • He was sleeping on a reluctant friend's couch, living hand to mouth, and held up a liquor store = he has no support system to speak of.
  • He's respectful and loyal to Murphy = he sees the value of a having a genuine "salt of the earth" person in your corner.
  • He's open and observant = he perceives what's expected of him in order to "get laid" and goes after it.
  • He likes stories = he enjoys gleaning lessons from his own past and those of others.
  • He gives credit where credit is due = As his confidence in himself growsm so does his ability to impart his knowledge with others.
  • He understands pain = he learns from it and does not let himself be defined by it.
I had a discussion with my friend and mentor Pen Densham about this. He agreed with me about exposition and the beauty of finding unique ways to show an audience something critical. He laughed at how frustrated I was by these books. Then he gave me the galleys of his own book, Riding the Alligator, (and told me not to waste my money on anymore of these books - GREAT GUY. HAHA). He talks about finding a "story midwife" to help you share and care for this thing you've created. Isn't that a beautiful image?

In his last dispatch to me, Tom Gilroy gave me a long list of films to watch which he says ring true to the kind of stories I care about. Among them was Harvey. So, this is what I'm tucking into tonight.

The only thing I'm not sure about is this big rabbit business. I found that aspect of Donnie Darko to be distractingly unresolved. (And so many people told me I was going to love it. Weird.)

Hopefully I like this rabbit more.