Invent

2011 August


Specific Rim

I read the script for PACIFIC RIM recently and came away impressed. Any movie that requires a two-page sci-fi glossary of terms at the beginning scratches me right where I itch. This is basically Voltron for semi-grown-ups (or Evangelion if you’re a nerd). In fact, a much more satisfying take on giant robots than Justin Marks’ VOLTRON script from a few years ago.

To sum up the (pretty basic) story, giant Kaiju (20-story hellbeasts with names like ‘Invidia’) are entering our world from another dimension and attacking any city they please. The only thing that can stop them are giant Jaegers (20-story robots with names like ‘Tacit Ronin’), who chop them up with swords, gattling guns, ion pulses and wave lasers. Take your pick.

One thing I learned from this Travis Beacham really concentrates on the build up. The first attack doesn’t happen until page 30 and the main protagonists don’t get involved in the actual fighting until page 60. I’d have had them scrapping it out by page 2. Time is given to setting up the backstory and the team-building, so that when the shit does hit the fan, it has some weight. Which is a gross image.

Only criticism I have is the overload of dream sequences. These are used for backstory and to visualize overcoming internal obstacles (like Inception, except not as BHHWWWARRRRRRMMMMM), but there’s too many for my taste.

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Time

One of the biggest challenges writers face is finding the time to write, while still juggling their butt-numbing day job and butt-numbing personal life. At least, I think it is. I don’t know any other writers. I should say, one of the biggest challenges *I* face, is finding time to write, whilst still being able to watch two episodes of The Wire per evening. (I’m on a strict schedule).

Well, it ain’t easy… but it can be!

It all depends on when and where you write. I think I’m lucky, I can write anywhere – at home, in bed, at a loud bar, in a douchey coffee shop, underneath the Manhattan Bridge… it’s all the same. Just open the laptop and press them letter buttons. Some people need their special comfy chair or absolute peace and quiet in order to get the juices flowing. That’s sometimes hard to find, so if you don’t have those things, it gives you an excuse to put it off.

Putting things off is bad.

Always keep going. It’s the editing phase where you need to do some serious concentrating and that’s when you need to remove all distractions. Editing also works best if you can do it in big blocks, a whole day devoted to going through the script start to finish. Doing that sort of thing in short bursts will make you cry later because you screwed it up.

Plain old writing, however, can be tackled a little at a time. You’re just setting up the building blocks after all, and ninety minutes to blast through some pages is longer than you think. The sad fact that my concentration cannot last longer than two and half hours make a longer session redundant anyway. So if you can grab two hours a day to write, you have all the time you need. Caveat: Once you’re a professional writer, I’m sure things will change – you’ll need to write longer to get more things done, and that’s a whole other set of techniques.

Now I’m finding another problem – between work, The Wire, dinner, talking to my wife, The Wire, and sleep, I have almost no time to watch new movies. I can feel my movie knowledge fading away like Arnie’s biceps.

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Watch Instantly

In an attempt to add to my movie knowledge, I’ve set a task for myself – I’m going through the IMDb Top 250 and watching every film on the list. I’m at 206 movies so far.

Watching classics all the time is like eating steak every night – it’s definitely awesome, but you get used to it. After 206 steaks, your guts bung up. The movies that make up the IMDb list are all a certain type: worthy, epic, long, and more often than not, by Clint Eastwood. (Gran Torino is in the top 100, higher than Return of the Jedi. FUCK that noise).

But hey, I’m a trooper, I can do this. Apart from the odd clunker (Pirates of the Caribbean?) there are some movies that have been a revelation, and so clearly influential it’s staggering. Rashomon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Les Diaboliques, The Battle of Algiers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Harvey and The General blew my goddamn doors off. Watch them if you haven’t.

There’s some I’m not looking forward to (Life is Beautiful, ugh. UPDATE: IT WAS AWESOME) and some I can’t wait for (Seven Samurai -¬†UPDATE: IT WAS AWESOME), but it’s a good exercise for everyone who loves movies and needs to fill in the gaps.

If you want to play along at home and track your progress, there’s a site called icheckmovies that let’s you tick off what you’ve seen. My list is here.

What I learned: Obviously, the more movies you watch, the better you will understand what works and what doesn’t. It’s the most enjoyable way to improve your work apart from actual writing. There are definitely trends throughout the decades, and genres come and go, but there’s one thing all these films have in common: amazing characters. A great character IS a great movie in most cases. So if you can master that, you’re halfway done.

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Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too!

I gave Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, blah blah a shot and grabbed the Kindle version. It’s written by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, the guys in shorts from Reno:911, who now write shitty tentpole comedies deep inside the heart of the modern studio system. And what a place it is. If you need a reason to never move to LA, they have plenty. And if you have a single artistic bone in your body, this is one of the most discouraging books available. Luckily I don’t and I loved it.

These cats lay it all out. People are named and shamed for being dicks, straightforward explanations are given for why movies turn out terrible, and free lunches with stars are given their deserved recognition. They tell you how to do stuff you don’t want to do (you do it), why you will definitely get fired (100% definitely) and what to do when it happens (drink). This book is nothing short of a truth bomb.

What I learned:¬†Probably the most useful book about that business I’ve read, because it’s honest. It demystifies the industry completely. There’s at least fifteen counter-intuitive things anyone would get wrong in Hollywood that they teach you to avoid. And it’s worth it for the chapter on Billy Crystal alone.

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