From Theory to Practice

In reflection as my dream of being a full-time writer, I have many dreams of various mediums (prose, screenplays, poetry, comics, etc.). However, at one point I was like, “damn. I’m far too wrapped up in the little details. There’s not story here, just ideas and archetypes that may or may not fit together.” Needless to say a brother was most frustrated with the process of learning multiple techniques on writing. What a brother also failed to do as he was caught up is listen to his instincts.

If not listening to my instincts was a lesson I needed to learn, well then I missed the boat a few times. May times I decided that the best route was to comply and be like everyone else. Many times this lesson crossed my path, and I ignored it. Well now I’m at a point where I’ve learned a lot of the rules when it comes to writing. No two professors are alike, and that is a challenge.

For example, when I took fiction writing as an undergrad, we learned to “write it out.” You don’t edit as you go along (you will be stuck on page one till doomsday), and you for sure didn’t know everything your characters did or will do. It’s a trip of discovery. You feel your way through situations. Characters have epiphanies, and that’s a wonderful experience. I love that about prose. We are artists trying to find our way. It is only after completing that first draft that you go back and edit.

By contrast screenwriting classes in graduate school have been about using the book The Writer’s Journey, which is a great tool by the way. I am by no means dissing it. I still have and use my copy. I’ve been taught that if you don’t resolve your ideas in the planning stages, then your story will fail. Also there’s a commercial side to screenwriting for film and television. A brother was hard pressed to find a situation where the artistic side won over the commercial. Not that my scripts couldn’t be both artistic and commercial, but it was a clear case of what side the bread was buttered on. You must be able to sell your scripts.

I took several classes in writing of fiction and nonfiction, and found with each professor there are different techniques I’ve picked up. I have found some common grounds too. There is definitely a high advantage to learning the three-act (and sometimes four-act) structure. There is a mild difference in all the mediums. An article is not a screenplay, neither is a short story, and so forth. Knowing the differences matter. There is also an advantage to understand how some characters have archetypes they are based on. Even further, formatting scripts and stories in a professional manner is more than a must.

Now comes the fact that I must reconcile all of these techniques. What works, and what doesn’t. This has been a bit of a struggle for me. I have so many techniques in my queue and I didn’t know how to apply them without my internal censor going off.

I need to write things out. My instinct tells me to get the idea out of my head and onto paper first. Only then can I look at The Writer’s Journey, or any other tool I use for writing a story. There have been scenes so clear in my mind’s eye that I needed to write them without hesitation. It needs fine tuning, of course, but I will say that I’m doing all the things I need in order to get the story done.

It’s clear to me that there is no right or wring way to complete your story. For me it has been the accumulation of different ideas and techniques. A learning experience. Only after having so many varied concepts/teachings can I now look back on the things I need in order to advance my creative writing. Who’s to say I won’t learn another way to write. After all I have multiple books on screenwriting at my disposal.

I will say its time to move from theory to practice. Also I need to stop ignoring my instinct.

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The Wolfman

The Wolfman 2010 (dir. Joe Johnson) stars Benico Del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving. This is a remake of sorts of the old Universal horror film. I can say it has a few scary moments (moments not scenes) in there, and the Blu-Ray disc contains an extended version of the film. Admittedly I saw the extended version first. When I saw the theatrical version, I realized that some of the ideas didn’t match up in my head.

I’m always in the mood for a supernatural story. With The Wolfman I was more than ready to devour this film and enjoy it all. As a child the old Universal Monsters were some of my favorite films. I wasn’t looking for scares as much as looking for thrills. The endless possibilities of a the film kept me exited. I got to see it on Blu- Ray disc, and not in the theaters. I have mixed feeling about this film. Very mixed.

To say this The Wolfman is without some charms would be a mistake on my part. As far as the scenery goes, the Gothic elements of this story are done well. I love the crumbling estate we only see in its former glory in brief flashbacks. Symbolically the estate represents the deteriorated roles (and morals) of the characters so well. It also reeks of isolation, desperateness, and loneliness. No one’s mind resembles more of the Talbot Estate more than John Talbot (Hopkins). John Talbot is a shadow of himself, and all the things that were wondrous about him, have long gone. Likewise the relationship with his family is barely there.

This film loves its atmosphere and loves to take its time to let actions unfold. While the extended version makes sense, it does not always take the quickest route to the story. It does make me wonder how long to get to the story. The theatrical version trims the story down, and is worth a second viewing. Yes it was likely a mistake to see the extended version first, but its what I did.

Part of the film to me suggests that in civilization we have a bit of a cages animal within us. Its embodied in the form of this wolfman who is still wearing his clothes when he transforms. The transformation looks painful, and very drawn out. The pain of transformation adds to the curse, as if to suggest that the change from civilized man to pure animal is agonizing.

What the Wolfman does not show so well is the duality of the two natures. We have a rational, and somewhat restrained man who becomes a beast. It would be nice to have seen some changes in his persona. Was he more hungry, amorous, arrogant. Instead he (Lawrence Talbot) stays restrained, a little cautious, and more than attracted to Gwen (Emily Blunt). Perhaps this is the duality, to hold on longer to one’s self control. I’m taking a leap here, as nowhere in this film do I see either werewolf struggling to hold onto themselves.

I could argue that being a werewolf is akin to puberty or an emotional growth for Lawrence. Despite his occupation as an actor, it is only after become the creature that Talbot decided to be emotionally vulnerable. He allows someone inside of his insular world to accept love and compassion. Such trials are savage, brutal, and not without consequence.

I loved Emily Blunt’s performance as Gwen. In my mind I instantly compared/contrasted her role to that of her character in The Devil Wears Prada. In Prada, she was arrogant, snobbish, and hateful. Here she’s restrained, well mannered, and cool. Ultimately she has to “release” Talbot from the curse, making their love tragic and doomed from the moment Lawrence survives the bite.

One of the great problems I have with this film is the motivations of some of the characters, and the pacing. When I try to digest Hopkins’ character (John Talbot), and understand his point of view, I fail. I get his distant persona at first. Some people are like that. Repressed rage and the desire to “let the beast out” only after he explains it.

John Talbot turns on his family first. While his actions can be likened to that of a serial killer (with a supernatural bent), he has to tell us this as opposed to us seeing this within the film. While the character he plays is more than distant, (and he does platy a compelling disassociated patriarch), as a doppelganger I felt we did not know of feel enough. By the end of the big reveal, it feels forced. Like we need to have these things here, as opposed to us suspecting these things about him.

For all the character’s charm, and the slow pacing of the film, I think there should have been room to allow us to see the motivations of the villain. This brings into play who is the main character? Is Benico Del Toro the protagonist, and Anthony Hopkins the antagonist? Their roles seem intertwined in a bad way. At one point Hopkins takes the lead because he has the most control. He know who is the true culprit of all the grizzly crimes. He manages to stay a step ahead of all the other characters. His confrontation with his son, which would be inevitable, also seems a bit staged in my opinion. Hopkins has to clue everyone in, and that makes his role a bit too pat.

The film’s playful stance with the violence with the over the top killings. Because of the comical effect, it lessens the horrors of the film. It in effect, remains distracting for the fact they we’re dealing with a powerful killer. For example, the guy who gets caught in the marsh after spending all his bullets tries to kill himself before the Wolfman gets him, but but he’s out of bullets. The Wolfman decapitates him. When a constable sticks his hand in one of the Gypsy wagons, the Wolfman cuts it off, then gouges the Constable’s eyes out as if to suggest the constable may or may not have been too curious for his own good.

Once scene that left me thinking this movie’s struggling with direction and marring its tone is Lawrence Talbot’s transformation in the asylum. Are we to believe that the Doctor was so full of himself and his speech as to not turn around to notice Lawrence? The mayhem that follows is predictable and silly.

The Blu-Ray deleted scenes are a mixed bag for me. There are alternate endings, and a scene where the Wolfman encounters a blind signer at a party. It does hold fast to the civilized and uncivilized world clashing. I almost wished it was added to the film.

Inception

I went to see inception this Saturday. I was happy to get out and enjoy a film in a theater. Let me say that the audience in the theater was very silent, which can be a rare thing. The movie was Inception, dir Chistopher Nolan. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard,Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.

There’s a lot going on in this film, but at its heart we’re treated to a story where people are able to enter your dreams and steal your thoughts. The term “inception” does include entering dreams, however, the goal is to plant ideas in one’s head. We start with a dream heist gone bad to planting a dream in a wealthy heir’s (Cillian Murphy) head. Nothing goes 100% as planned.

What I noticed immediately was a comparison to The Matrix. After all we have a film where technology allows people to enter an alternate world inside the human brain. He have some zero gravity combat, some shoot em outs and in fact some brain hacking. Several of the people are even able to alter the dream world in some fashion like Neo.

Mind you, The Matrix isn’t the first film to deal with alternate states. It certainly should not be the last. I’m allowing myself a moment where I accept this fact. I think of how the film shows the inner world which reminds me of Expressionist films, but the dreams are larger, and the advances in technology make the dreamscapes look amazing. One look at the crumbling buildings near the seashore in Cobbs’ dream world tells us the story of a lonely man and his guilt.

What I noticed a lot in Inception is the use of diagetic and non-diagetic sounds. When dealing with alternate worlds, one must keep in mind what is within the story world and what is outside the story world. Let me say the soundtrack for this film (by composer Hans Zimmer) was very moving. Somewhat dark and excitable. If I may say as contagious as placing a thought in one’s head. The fact that music is used in the film as a diagetic aspect to wake several people works interestingly. After all only certain characters within the film can hear the songs.

This is a bit of a caper film, so we do see a heist going on. I like the fact that there is a clear mission, and some unusual math in here. Dream world time is different from real world time. With the sub-levels of dreams seconds become years.

What kind of took me out of the story a few times was that it sometimes resembled video games. I was thinking “Metal gear” when the cast stormed a fortress to break into the target’s mind. There were several gunfire scenes that gave me pauses. Mind you we have DiCaprio’s character Cobb losing his mind here. He projects his dead wife, Mal into many dreamscapes, and she is pissed! She is hostile and willing to inflict pain and death on anyone she comes across.

The ending is very ambiguous, in spite of having a happy ending where Cobb returns to his children. What we are left to infer is that he is still within a dream. The rest of the cast fades away and the only thing that really matters is Cobb’s world.