Screw the cat

First Draft

So, you want to write a screenplay.

Maybe you’ve read some books on screenplay writing—names like Cowgill, McKee and Field dot your bookshelf. Perhaps you’ve taken some screenwriting classes whether at a local university or community centre. You may have even—saints be praised—read some screenplays.

Great. Good on you. Way to go.

Now, before you type your first letter onto a page, do yourself a huge favour and forget all of it.

Okay, don’t forget it, but definitely shelve it. Put it aside, because almost none of it is useful to you yet.

In short, you can’t handle the truth…and that’s okay.

Leave the lessons for Draft Two and onward

Leave the lessons for Draft Two and onward

You’re about to write your first first draft (no accidental duplication there) and your only purpose right now is to tell a story.

Should my inciting incident happen around page 10? Doesn’t matter.

How much detail is okay in my narrative? As much as you need.

When is it okay to use voiceovers? Whenever you want.

None of what you learned really matters at this stage and is more likely to make your job harder than easier. It will become useful, later, when you’re doing rewrites—and you will do a lot of those.

But for right now, all of that information—much of which can appear and may be conflicting—is just a barrier between the blank page before you and the story you want to tell. Or perhaps more importantly, between you and the best story you can tell.

In my experience, it is a 1000X easier to fix bad structure than it is to fix a bad story. (This is not to say that any story cannot be improved.)

If you need three pages of narrative to get you to the first line of dialogue, then write three pages of narrative.

If it takes you 347 pages to tell your story, then that’s what it takes.

If you read yesterday’s pages and they sound like shit, stop reading yesterday’s pages. Keep writing until you’ve told your story.

Contrary to the name of the software package—thanks for the pressure, Final Draft—this is your first draft and it’s going to have a lot of shitty bits and pieces; they all do. I don’t know that in the history of screenwriting, anyone has ever filmed the first draft.

So write like no one is watching; because other than you, no one is. And tell the story you want to tell.

When you finally write “FADE TO BLACK” or “END” or “FIN” (pretentious move, btw), those books, blogs and lessons will still be there to help you get to drafts two, eight and fifteen.

(Please note: When I say ignore everything, I’m also including this blog post. If it is easier for you to tell your story by considering any or all structural and formatting elements, then do so.)

Blaze the trail that works for you, regardless of whether anyone has been down that trail before.

Let the cat write his or her own damned story

Let the cat write his or her own damned story

Standoff (a short story)

The Inquisitor

Too much a creature of urban comforts to ever be called a Nature lover, Henry nonetheless considered himself a Nature liker. And yet, as his eyeballs threatened to dry into powdery husks, he also recognized that Nature had a dark side. And today, that dark side came with bright red epaulets.

In an exchange that may only have been minutes, but felt like hours, Henry held the gaze of his ebon Inquisitor, afraid to look away lest the wraith take wing again, strafing him in violent indignation.

Moments earlier, Henry was taking a lovely stroll along the waterfront, leaving the breezes of the beach for the verdant comfort of the giant reeds and a secluded pond.

His soft-soled shoes barely whispered as he wound his way along the wooden deck that cut a swath across the still, algae-laden waters. Instead, his silent steps were accompanied by the cheerful chirrup of so many sparrows and the steady whine of cicadas complaining about the damp heat.

Merging waters

But as he reached the half-way point, he sensed a change even if he couldn’t yet identify it. The breeze died, the sparrows silenced and the cicadas stilled until all that remained was the low throb of his heart.

And as subtly as the stillness formed, it was macheted by an agonized screech that seemed to quite literally part Henry’s hair.

No sooner had Henry arced through his ducking motion than the demon struck again, piercing eardrum and scalp with equal vigour.

Terror’s impulse to flee was tempered by uncertainty’s steely grip as Henry found himself rooted in place. That something wanted to kill him, he was certain; but the complete absence of movement around him suggested it was all in his mind. His tingling scalp, however, said that whatever was happening was on his head, not in it.

Despite the glaring sunlight that baked the path, trickling tangy sweat into Henry’s fresh wounds, his pupils stretched to their anime widest, searching the chaotic tangle for the slightest signs of movement. He had no reason to believe his tormentor had given up, but all he saw was blue sky, brown tree limbs, green reeds and black water.

Yes, these had all taken on an ominous mantel, but nothing looked capable of launching an attack.

Even as Henry contemplated giving up his search, though, the air was pierced once more with an irritated cry. It was everything he had in him not to turtle.

And that’s when he saw it, the beast with the black eyes of death concealed behind a shroud of serrated alder leaves.

Hunkered down

The expressionless face bobbed lower and turned slightly to its left, determined to take in its quarry. Its oil-drop eye blended almost seamlessly with the void its plumage left in the sky, a puncture of midnight in the midday light. The only break in the evil blackness was a splash of blood red atop its shoulder.

“A bird?” Henry questioned silently, a blush threatening to overwhelm his budding sunburn.

Sloughing his tension like a skin, Henry rolled his shoulders to massage them. That was all the demon needed.

With blinding speed, the creature was upon him again. The flapping wings were matched by flailing arms as Henry swung at his attacker to no avail, his body instinctively twisting as the assailant passed.

It didn’t take Henry nearly as long to find the bird now, the monster standing proudly on an exposed limb, cackling his disdain upon his hapless victim.

“What is your problem?” Henry cried to the skies, briefly silencing the bird, which cocked its head a little further as though contemplating the question.

Henry unconsciously mirrored the action when it squawked back.

Annoyed, Henry turned to walk away but his motion was stopped by a shrill pierce. Spreading its wings, the bird quadrupled in size, a Rorschach nightmare.

As Henry relaxed his muscles, the bird drew in its wings. The stare down began.

Redwing on a reed

Unblinking, Henry met the bird’s gaze with his own, his every emotion reflected in that dead pool of emptiness, that glistening eye. A psychic vacuum, the bird seemed to reach into Henry’s body, threatening to engulf his soul.

Mired in a personal La Brea, Henry could feel his will slowly sink into the sulfurous malevolence. Only ego and will kept him from bowing to the inevitable.

“Look, momma,” a child’s voice squeaked through the tension. “Issa red-wing bla’ bird.”

Out of the corner of his eye, which otherwise remained glued to the bird, Henry could see a small boy trundle down the path, pointing wildly with one hand while waving a camera with the other.

More importantly, Henry saw that the bird caught the arrival as well.

Glimpse

Synchronized swimmers of the air, man and bird vaulted for the boy, whose mother remained several yards away, blissfully unaware of the horrors awaiting her budding family.

Every wing beat was matched with a stride, every fluttered feather with airfoiled arm hair. And Henry knew his job was twice as difficult as the bird’s.

Not only did he have to stop the bird from harming the child, but he had to do it without knocking the kid into next Tuesday himself. But one thing at a time.

It is said that when the conditions are just right, you can stop the flight of one bullet with a perfectly timed second bullet.

Henry didn’t know if that was true. Nor did he really have the time to contemplate what conditions such a thing might require.

Pond

All Henry could tell you for certain was that once airborne, a red-winged blackbird is a thousand times more agile than a middle-aged man. That, and it takes about eight days to get the stench of stagnant pond water out of your nostrils.

He has no idea what happened to the kid.

A steady stream of firefighting moments

An endearing video by a friend of mine who is a volunteer firefighter (and otherwise whack-job).

Please take a moment to watch it and give a thought to these wonderful people who risk everything to keep others safe and sound (and well-fed, if the video is anything to go by).

These folks are heroes (even Ned).

Ned's Blog

image I’m fast approaching my fifth year as a volunteer firefighter. In those five years I’ve experienced some of my life’s greatest emotional peaks and valleys while fighting fully involved house fires, searching for lost hikers, transporting injured ATV riders off the dunes, educating kindergarteners about fire safety, and extricating both the living and the dead from mangled automobiles — sometimes within arm’s reach of one another.

Most of those images will remain reels of mental footage tucked away in my memory like the VHS cassettes of my youth; waiting for me to find them some day when, more than likely, I’m searching my mind for something else entirely.

As I sat here at the breakfast table quietly eating a bowl of Froot Loops, I began scrolling through some of the firefighting photos on my iPad. Among them are moments of fun, intensity, fear and camaraderie built on a shared understanding…

View original post 162 more words

Glen Stewart Ravine

Took my camera around the corner to a nearby nature walk and then down to Lake Ontario for a few minutes.

Close but no Clouseau

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So, I just finished watching the 2006 reboot of The Pink Panther with Steve Martin, Kevin Kline and Jean Reno, and all I can think is nice try.

Hollywood has always loved its remakes and reboots—this is not a new phenomenon—and sometimes they pay off. For example, I particularly enjoyed the Star Trek reboot of 2009, although its follow-up remake of Wrath of Khan was a bust for me.

But I seriously believe there are a handful of quintessential films that simply cannot be remade or rebooted, and in each case, I suspect it is because the lead character was so completely defined by the actor who played him or her.

Such is the case with Inspector Clouseau.

One of these men is an imposter

One of these men is an imposter

In the 2006 reboot and its unfathomably inexplicable sequel in 2009, Clouseau was performed by Steve Martin, a man for whom I have the utmost respect as a comedian and actor. But the key term there is “performed”. Steve Martin portrayed Inspector Clouseau.

But Peter Sellers was Inspector Clouseau. He didn’t portray or perform the honoured member of the Surete, he gave birth to the man, he lived the man, he was the man.

And when the beloved actor, comedian, writer, raconteur passed away in 1980, so too should have any thought of reviving Clouseau. For all intents and purposes, Sellers’ tombstone might also have read “Here reposes Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau”.

Sellers was that kind of an actor. He was a shape-shifter, a modern-day Proteus. Upon donning the hat, moustache and trench coat, Sellers ceased to be and Clouseau emerged.

And in giving birth to Clouseau, he launched onto the world a character that would become immortal, and thus a character who cannot simply be portrayed.

Perhaps one day, an actor will come along who can inhabit the character, be the character enough to do it justice, but I can’t think of anyone. And even if such an actor exists, someone with that kind of talent is better served giving genesis to new characters of the immortal prowess of Clouseau.

So, bless director Shawn Levy and Martin for trying, although over-trying might be more appropriate. You and the rest of the cast and crew had pretty much no chance to leave a footprint given that your predecessor left craters.

* * * * *

For reference, another actor I put in the unrebootable/unremakeable category is Orson Welles.

Can you imagine anyone else trying to step into the roles of Charles Foster Kane (Citizen Kane) or Harry Lime (The Third Man)? I can’t.

Harry Lime and Charles Foster Kane

Harry Lime and Charles Foster Kane

Judging Amy…Schumer…in Trainwreck (a review)

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I need to disclose that I adore Amy Schumer. I think she is an amazingly funny and talented comedian who has a knack for finding every nerve in every situation. Thus, I was petrified when I heard she was going to write and star in a movie.

Obviously, it’s not that I didn’t think she was talented. More that the talent to pull off a movie is very different from the talent to perform stand-up or biting sketch comedy.

Most comedians do not make the transition smoothly, and when they do, it is largely because they have completely reinvented themselves, often after several rocky outings. And many simply make the not-particularly-safer jump to sitcoms.

There is a lot to like about Schumer’s Trainwreck, so in that sense, I am happy that she didn’t completely self-immolate. On the other hand, the film had a lot of weaknesses that simply highlighted the challenge of writing a 122-minute sketch.

The movie had a lot of funny lines and several funny moments, based on the laughter that surrounded me and periodically fell out of my own face. And the humor was classic Schumer for those familiar with her comedy.

Anatomical jokes. Sexuality jokes. Feminine hygiene jokes. A bit of racism here and there. And crap loads of jokes about what a giant slut Amy is—note that she followed long-standing comedian tradition of naming her character after herself.

And Bill Hader was amazing in the role of the sports surgeon-boyfriend Aaron, particularly as he largely played the entire movie straight. This was not one of Hader’s million oddball characters. This was Hader being a regular human being who hangs out with multi-million-dollar sports figures.

Where the movie fell down for me was in the story. In short, it was a pretty stereotypical romcom.

In this case, they didn’t go with the “I hate you, I hate you, I can’t live without you” model of Nora Ephron. This was more the increasingly familiar “I don’t know about this, gee this is nice, what the hell, I hate you, never leave me” model.

Now, as a romcom, that is perfectly fine. If you came looking for a romcom, you will leave satisfied. It’s classic Judd Apatow, who directed Trainwreck.

But this was hailed as the anti-romcom (not necessarily by Schumer). The movie that turns romcoms on their head. Yes, the commitment-phobe in this story was the woman and not the man, but Schumer couldn’t seem to commit to that, ironically enough.

Adorable couple...cue trainwreck in 3...2...

Adorable couple…cue trainwreck in 3…2…

After establishing her character as the wham-bam-thank-you-sir kind of girl, she almost effortlessly falls into a relationship with Hader. There is token resistance, but it is overwhelmed simply by Hader saying he doesn’t agree and thinks they should be dating. This isn’t edgy; it’s sweet. Even her voiceover admits that.

Not to give anything else away, but conflict, crisis, lesson learned, gritted teeth, redemption and I love you, I love you too.

Again, if you want a romcom to match all romcoms, you got it. For those of us waiting for the Amy Schumer jab-twist combo, it was meh.

As to all of those other amazingly funny performances that everyone was raving about, I must have blinked through those scenes. It was a bigger shock seeing Tilda Swinton as a woman (and not David Bowie) than seeing her crack wise. Colin Quinn largely played Colin Quinn, who I like but did nothing spectacular here. Dave Attell wasn’t even funny.

Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton

And the various sports dudes like LeBron James and John Cena were your typical variety show variants of athletes…mostly cartoonish feminized versions of their personas.

Schumer had moments of real pathos here, so kudos to her acting chops. This wasn’t the joke-a-minute machine of her show. There is definite potential there for a film career, but like all the others who came before her, it will likely mean reinventing herself, and I’m not too sure that she’s finished inventing herself on stage or in sketch.

In fact, I sure as hell hope not, because that’s the Amy I adore.

Lady gonna do whatever she damned well pleases!

Lady gonna do whatever she damned well pleases!

Ant Man (a review)

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Paul Rudd and his dimples want to don a motorcycle suit and play superhero. Yeah, that’ll work, I thought with a ready batch of vitriol sliding around my tongue-in-cheek.

Thus, I went to Ant Man last night expecting a disaster…and was surprised. Not only was Ant Man not a disaster, it was actually a delight; easily becoming my favourite Marvel movie to date.

As my friends and I discussed over beers, Paul Rudd plays Paul Rudd. It is the only character he knows. The immensely likeable fuck-up doofus who somehow manages to do the right thing in the end. As such, Paul Rudd is perfectly suited to likeable fuck-up roles in movies like Our Idiot Brother (you’ll never guess which role he plays in this movie).

But a superhero? Really? I didn’t see it.

But it is the doofus that makes Ant Man work. And it is the doofus that makes this movie so approachable to a mass audience.

Sure, these are all comic book movies. You are asked to leave your credulity at the door as you make your way to your seats. These are gods, aliens, spirits and every once in a while humans with supernatural powers or genetic mutations.

Let’s face it. Tony Stark only gets to keep company with these guys because of his smarmy wit, which is his supernatural ability, brought to life deliciously by Robert Downey, Jr. The suit is just a nice-to-have.

How the hell did Paul Rudd and Ant Man get into this picture? Even the movie makes fun of the costumed crusader’s name.

Rudd manages to make Ant Man believable and by that, I mean both the character and the entire concept. The doofus brings a heart to this character, a grounded reality to this character that no one else has ever managed. He is what Peter Parker was supposed to be, but without all the angst.

Doofus as superhero? It works!

Doofus as superhero? It works!

You could have a beer with Ant Man, and that is why this movie will do incredibly well.

Ant Man is also amazingly funny, rife with jokes and awkward moments that completely work. Even a sourpuss like me was heard to laugh out loud on more than one occasion. Some of that comes down to Rudd’s timing, but no character is left without laughs. Everyone contributes in this movie.

Another factor is that you don’t have to be immersed in the Marvel universe to get this movie. You don’t have to have seen every predecessor movie to understand what is happening—see my previous thoughts on Age of Ultron. Only in a couple of places would that knowledge have made the joke better, but even there, the jokes worked.

The story is a comic book story, and so has the depth one might expect of something aimed at 10-year-olds, but again, that’s the kind of story in which a doofus revels. And unlike the other Marvel films, this adds a touch of Wile E. Coyote, just to keep it light.

My only other notes of…well…note: Michael Douglas is amazing; Evangeline Lilly is gorgeous and fun; and I have never wanted a pet ant more in my life.