Progress Report 50 – In for the long haul

NewImageThis is it, Progress Report 50. I know I’m a bit late but the last too weeks of the school year are always busy and I wanted this one to be a bit longer, it’s the 50th after all. Time to reflect and time to look ahead. I’m not going to talk too much about my private life, I did that many times in the last few month and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep doing that for the foreseeable future but today I want to focus on my writing and how I think I evolved as a writer or to be more precise what I learned about myself as a writer.

Working on Skyscraper and dealing with some personal problems1 I realised that Skyscraper and all the other scripts are much more personal than I thought. I’m starting to see things about myself in Scrap and Skip, well more so in Scrap, that I didn’t knew. I’m not a bird who can’t fly but some of his issues and especially parts of his journey remind me of myself and some of my issues, fears and problems. I didn’t realise it while writing but now it seems really obvious. There’s a lot of me in Scrap and I think that #ProjectMomentum is an important part of my journey and really helped me to spread my wings or at least getting me to a place where spreading my wings seems like the natural and right thing to do.

For me this is what art is supposed to be, I’m not saying that the things I wrote are great art but they speak some truth, maybe not universal truth but my truth and that’s the only one I have and frankly the only one I really care about. I know that Skyscraper is technically “just” a kids movie but if it gets made one day I really think that Scraps journey could be a good life lesson for kids and adults alike. Conquering your fears and self-doubts might not be the most original life lesson but I think it’s an important one, if not the most important one. It’s probably natural for any writer to give meaning to his work and I can see why, it adds value to your work and helps dealing with all the pain of being a writer. You wrote something that has meaning for you and if you’re lucky for someone else as well.

Again, I’m not saying that I wrote War and Peace but if were really honest, popular culture has a far wider reach than most great works of literature and and art, at least those who are not part of the cultural zeitgeist. A popular movie or a tv show has a far wider reach than Tolstoy or Joyce, I’m not saying that that is a good thing, Ulysses is a great book, so as a writer of these shows and movies you have to be aware of your responsibility. You characters, your themes, your stories are going to influence people, their choices and their values, maybe not in a big way but even small and insignificant choices can lead someone on a different path.

ProjectMomentum has been one of the best decisions of my life, it helped me though some dark times and made me a better writer and better person. Blogging about this process was a vital part of its success as well. I don’t know how this blog feels for my readers but it really helped me focus and reflect. If this just reads like gibberish I’m sorry but to me it’s really important.

I won’t do the numbers today, I watched a couple of movies and I’m preparing for my trip to Canada. I hope to get some editing and outlining done, maybe even some writing. I don’t know how often I’ll blog but you can be sure that “Hard but unfair…” returns in August and You can cry and laugh about me and my problems as a person and as a writer. I think the Canada trip is exactly what I need to recharge by batteries.

So, this is it for today but don’t worry, there will be at least 50 more of these in the near future, this time I’m in for the long haul. See you in August, who knows maybe something really great happens. You never know.

  1. I didn’t say I wasn’t going to talk about my personal problems, I just said not too much.

Progress Report 49 – Making Plans

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“I love it when a plan comes together.”

That was a crazy week. 3 rehearsals, 2 concerts, one procession and too many hours of not getting any sleep, some of this might have been my fault and I’m not complaining but I’m glad the week is over. It was awesome but exhausting, like all good things.

I’m skipping the numbers today and I’ll dive right in. We finished our new version of Skyscraper. We cut it down to 73 pages and we are quite happy with the finished product. As I mentioned last week, not everything is perfect and I also realised, that we fail the Bechdel test but we wanted too cut pages and sacrifices had to be made. We learned a lot and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to write a post just about that process and some “behind the scenes”. That one might actually be worth your time. So stay tunes.

Anyway, inspired by this milestone I decided to go though all my projects, dormant, on life-support and near death and triage them to decide what I’m going to do next. I decided on a few parallel ideas and projects to keep all my creative muscles exercised. I don’t know yet what Orlindo is planning but I intend to do my job as his #ProjectMomentum partner and keep pushing him to work. I’m going to focus on these 5 things:

  1. Inspired by the new shorter version of Skyscraper, I’m going to cut at least 20 pages from Saber Rider. There’s going to be heavy tweaking as well.
  2. I’m trying to crack the idea I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It’s a very personal project and I want to get it right. This one has the biggest potential to be my next project.
  3. Die Klientin: I need to rewrite that one, it’s a bit of a mess right now but I can really see that movie being made for TV.
  4. Windwheel: Windwheel is an idea Orlindo had and I hope to be able to push him to keep working ion it. I won’t be the lead in that one but I really feel good about that idea and it might be worth to explore where that one might lead.
  5. That new exciting idea I’m waiting for. I don’t know what, that seems to be the point but I’m pretty sure that in the next couple of weeks I’ll get inspired to write something new or at least get an idea for something. It might be animated, it might be something totally different.

This sounds like a lot and it definitely is but I think these things are different enough to coexist next to each other in my brain. But then again, maybe I receive a total curve ball and all my plans fall apart, I guess I have to take it week by week. So, see you next week.

Progress Report 48 – Life on Mars

Greetings my friends. Busy week so this is going to be quicky. We have a big concert coming up, actually tow and work requires some attention s well, it’s oral matura next week. I’m really looking forward to July, I’m in serious need for some R&R. But let’s do the numbers.

One book/screenplay: Looking at some books for my students to read next year. Haven’t made a decision though.
Two movies: As part of the Skyscraper rewrite I watched Ozzy, an internationally financed animation film. Its not a great film but I’ve definitely seen worse and the movie shows that a shorter, cheaper version of Skyscraper is something commercially viable. I also watched LIFE. Cool movie, too bad they didn’t do the Venom thing. Would’ve been great.
Seven pages and seven hours: Still polishing the new draft. We got some feedback from friends and we hope to have a decent new version by next week. I feel good about the new version. There are a few things I miss but overall the script feels a bit more in focus. There’s a new found purpose to the story nut much fat. Some of our friends argued, that the pace is almost too high, and they are probably right. It’s even faster than before and there’s almost no filler and the quite moments are short and far and few between.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a kids movie and I’m not trying to sound disrespectful, I love kids movies but they are generally faster paced than let’s say a P.T. Anderson movie.

Unfortunately, that’s it for this week. Too busy but stay tuned… who knows.

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SoundtrackCorner #2: Main Themes

Finally, the long awaited second installment of SoundtrackCorner. In the first instalment I talked about some of my favourite composers and one of their compositions. This time I want to focus on Main Themes. I’m going to share five great Main Themes with you. I’m going to exclude some all time favourites, so no John Williams. You don’t need me to tell you why the Star Wars Theme is great and the same is true for Jaws and many other classics but maybe I can show you a hidden gem you overheard or maybe my hidden gems are just too obvious. Nevertheless, here are five great Main Themes, enjoy.

X-Men – John Ottman
Some superhero movies have a big problem, they don’t have a cool theme. The X-men franchise doesn’t have that problem.

Sleepy Hollow – Danny Elfman
Elfman is one of my favourite composers and Tim Burton one of my favourite directors. So Sleepy Hollow is a must for me n this list.

Dave – James Newton Howard
Dave is a quirky little movie with a soundtrack and a Main Theme to match.

Dragonheart – Randy Edelman
This is one of my all-time favourites. Dragonheart might not be the best movie but it has a great Score and an awesome Main theme.

The Right Stuff – Bill Conti
In my opinion one of the most subtle heroic themes ever. Just listening to this makes me want to watch the move again.

So what’s the screenwriting lesson here, this is supposed to be a screenwriting blog1. Well, listening to these tracks I see the movie and I get a clear idea about the tone. These Main Themes set the stage for the movie and it’s a sign of great artistry by the composers that in each of these cases the movie and the music are synonymous for each other. I can’t think of Dragonheart without hearing the music and vice versa.

Obviously most writers aren’t composers and that’s probably for the best so I’m not saying we should come up with our main themes but just like these themes, try to give your script an identity beyond the words. Try to give your script a voice, something recognisable, something identifying.

  1. …at least when it’s not a failed romance blog.

Progress Report 47 – The Times They Are a-Changin’

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Something’s in the Air

I can’t believe it’s time for one of these again, the weeks just fly by and I can’t believe I’m at #47 already. It’s matura time and I spent most of the week correcting matura exams. It’s actually not as bad as it sounds, we usually correct together and chat while correcting or make fun of some of some of our student’s mistakes. I know its sound harsh but what can you do, some mistakes are just too good/bad.

Anyway, correcting obviously ate away many hours and I couldn’t do as much writing as I wanted. I managed log some writing time but not nearly enough.

One book/screenplay: No reading this week. A bit of Catcher in the Rye and Of Mice and Men for school, that’s it.
Two movies: I watched some of the Mission Impossible movies, 1 and 5 to be specific. It’s great to see that some franchises evolve, talking to you Pirates.
Seven pages: We finished the new draft and now the real work starts.
Seven hours: Proofreading. Cutting pages and rewriting scenes was surprisingly fun, proofreading and making sure that everything holds together is not. That’s all I have to say about this.

So what now. I should write something, I should get back to work but sometimes I just feel the urge to write something completely different, something unimportant and let’s be honest, what’s less important than my blog. I have basically no readers, not even my friends…should you read this please drop a comment and I stand corrected but I highly doubt it… but that’s totally OK. I figured something out, this blog is not for them or for the world out there, the blog is for me. I’m probably repeating myself but writing this blog is a freeing experience and it kept me sane.

It sounds strange but it really did. You might ask, but if its a blog with no readers why not write a diary? Well, I thought about that too and the only answer I can give, I prefer to organise 1 my thoughts and having (a potential) audience helps me with that. I also like the fact that I I have to disguise some of my personal issues, it’s easier for me to cope with them after I translate them for you. Again, sounds strange but It helps me distance myself from my problems and sometimes they seem a little bit smaller because of it…sometimes they don’t.

During the last couple of month, this blog kept me sane and it was probably one of the best ideas I ever had. It also helped me shape my “writer persona”, that’s not to say I’m playing a character here but I’m a different person on this blog than in real life, I can show another side, other aspects, a different Greg who is probably a bit more honest and unafraid to admit to his feelings, even the dark ones.

I don’t know why I just felt the urge to type these lines just now, it’s just that somehow I have the feeling that change is about to come, The Times They Are a-Changin’. I have no idea, maybe it’s the end of the school year but I have this feeling that something is going to happen, not sure if it’s good or bad, I just know that something’s in the air. I’m not sure if I should be excited or frightened…I think I’ll go with curious.

  1. Ok, my thoughts might not be too organised but definitely better than in a diary.

Progress Report 46 – Up, Up and Away

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Keep calm.

I just booked my summer holiday. Canada, I start in Vancouver and take a trip through the country and I end up in New York and yes, I have a Hamilton ticket. I’m really looking forward to that. I need a break and 5 weeks of travelling should do the trick.

This is just going to be a quicky so let’s go straight to the numbers.

One book/screenplay: Not really, I had to spend some time with Skyscraper.
Two movies: The new Pirates is a mess. I also watched some random movies. Nothing too fancy.
Seven pages and seven hours: I spent most of my time with Skyscraper. We decided to cut it down to 80 pages and we hope to be don by the end of June. The goal is to make the script “cheaper” to produce. Pixar is not going to buy it but maybe someone who produces mid-budget animation movies might be interested. So technically I worked more than 7 hours but I produced minus 21 pages. We’re down to 82 right now but there are a few areas that require a lot more work.

There were some easy cuts, surprisingly easy, but some cuts require some adjustments and some new ideas. It’s quite an interesting process. You have a goal that creates problems and solving these problems is quite challenging but also inspiring. I haven’t felt so creative in quite a while. I love it.

In fact I enjoy it so much that I’ll stop now and get back to writing. Stay tuned, who knows.

Progress Report 45 – Master of None

What a busy week. So many things going on, I’m sure you are familiar with that. You have a thousand things to handle, so many different tasks to balance and then on top of that something totally unexpected happened and you just have to ask yourself where to find time for that. Two weeks earlier or later, no problem but why now? Why now?

Guess what, turns out you can find time. Sure you’re extremely busy and your nights get shorter but I actually like being busy. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing nothing but being busy, doing something I like or even love is not bad either. You probably wonder what Im talking about, well, a gentlemen never tells…no it’s not about a women, I said doing something not someone you love…but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if… no, not going there. Focus. Quick, let’s do the numbers before I get sidetracked again.

One book/screenplay: Do term papers count? I ha to read and correct some term papers, some of them good, some not so much but it’s work and it has to be done. I also reread Skyscraper but more on that a bit later.
Two movies: I didn’t watch too many movies but I binged Master of None, Season two on Netflix and wow, what aigret show. Season 1 was good but the second season is a sight to behold. Ansari and his team truly deliver on something great and unique. I don’t want to spoil anything, just go and watch it.
Seven pages and seven hours: I’m combining these two this week. A couple of month ago we wanted to rework Skyscraper to enter some competitions, well we reworked it a bit but we decided against the competition. This week I found myself going back to the script and I started to look for stuff to cut, shorten and polish. 103 pages is a bit long for an animation movie. Making it shorter seems like a good way to improve the scripts commercial appeal. In a way it’s similar to what we did with Saber Rider. It worked great for Saber Rider, it actually made the script better so hopefully we can repeat that with Skyscraper and who knows, maybe we soon have good news to share…c’mon, we’re allowed to dream. 🙂

Let me end with just a few quick thoughts on Master of None, I’m really busy remember. I liked the first season but compared to the seond one it was a bit unfocused. Maybe that was deliberate to some extent, Dev had to find himself at the end of the season and I think like Dev, the show really found itself in season two. It feels more mature and clearly wants to say something about human nature that goes far beyond the experiences of an Indian Muslim in America. All his problems, even the religious ones, especially those, are totally relatable and feel universal. I think that’s high praise and the show deserves it. I’m looking forward to season three.

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Jack of all Trades…

Angel – … and being a grown-up

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Great cast.

If Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about growing up, Angel is about being a grown-up. The two shows fit together nicely and these two similar yet different mission statements make both shows unique in their own way. Sure, sometimes the stories feel similar or incorporate similar elements but they feel different and they are usually told with a different focus or with slightly different conclusion.

Angel is not about what figuring out who you are, Angel is about defining who you are, becoming the Version of yourself you want to be, or sometimes the version you have to be. Angel is about your coworkers, the feelings you have about your coworkers, becoming a dad, trying to be a good dad, disappointments, well-meant betrayal, working for Evil Inc., loss, sacrifices and what it means to keep fighting because let’s face it, once you’re an adult there’s no exit strategy anymore, there’s no real finale with a happy ending, the journey keeps going on whether you’re prepared or not.

I’m not sure whether I prefer Buffy or Angel, I think as a show I prefer Buffy but I like Angel’s chapters more. The first season of Angel was a bit rough, at least until Wesley showed up and I think the show really came together when Fred1 became an integral part of the show. Season 3 is definitely the strongest season. The Fred and Wesley arc is probably one of my favourite romantic arcs ever, the end is obviously heart-breaking and I will always hate Joss for that but damn, it was great television and it brings me to tears every time.

Sometimes the big story arc felt a bit soapy and too plotty2 but it lead to some great character moments and solved some bog storytelling issues that would have dragged the show down, let’s be honest, no-one wants to see a Vampire raising a baby, that might have gotten old real fast.

It’s a shame that Angel got cancelled after only 5 Seasons, I think they had at least one really good season left in them, maybe two but in these 5 seasons the show delivered some great episodes and some truly inspiring moments. I’m not going to list all of them but most of them have to do with Wesley and Fred but don’t forget Smile Time or the birth of Connor and don’t get me started about that Waiting in the Wings.

One of my absolute favourites though is the moment in Season 5 when Spike turns corporeal again. Episode after episode you wonder when and how they are going to do that and then they turn it into a hilarious slapstick moment, you just have to love that. It’s the little things that keep us entertained.

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The perfect shot.

  1. ..and not just because Amy Acker is really cute.
  2. That’s whedonspeech, with the “y” at the end there.

Progress Report 44 – 47:11

It’s that time of the week again but let’s start with some personal news. I did my first 10k yesterday and I totally crushed it. I wanted to run under 55 minutes, a decent pace for me, but I was able to finish in 47 minutes and 11 seconds. I’m really proud. I obviously didn’t win anything (I placed in the middle, 68th to be precise) but I ran for me and it’s safe to say that I successfully completed the challenge. Hooray!

You probably wonder if I had time to write with all my racing, of course I did, well not actual writing but I did some outlining. Here are the details:

One book/screenplay: I started with the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, I’m thinking of reading it with a class next year, too early to tell though.
Two movies: Finished Buffy today, great finale. Angel’s 4th season is really strong as well, even though the plot feels a bit too constructed sometimes, still great shows. Maybe I’ll go see Get Out today.
Seven pages: Still waiting for stuff to write.
Seven hours: I’m fairly certain that I cracked the idea. I have a decent outline for act one and two (two is a bit sketchy but makes sense) and I’m reworking them right now in order to get a good grip of the third act. I’m not sure how to introduce the Supernatural elements, actually I don’t know if they are necessary.

I decided to set the story on a space station, picture 2001 meets Gravity with a bit of Alien to keep everyone on their feet. I actually think that a psychological version of Alien is actually a good way to describe my idea. It’s not about a Ripley who fights an alien, it’s about a character who fights another kind of evil, inner demons, either real or supernatural. It’s more about an internal struggle than an external one, sure it’s a movie and you need some action but I mentioned I see the monster of the story as a metaphor, a manifestation of inner turmoil that the protagonist needs to resolve. I hope I’ll be able to externalise this internal conflict in an appropriate and entertaining way. That’s why I’m going to stop now, I need to get some work done.

2001 Space Odyssey

No HAL in my movie.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Growing up…

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Slayer of Vampires

I’m a huge Joss Whedon fan, who isn’t, but I consider myself among the lucky people who knew his work before The Avengers. Not that there’s anything wrong with loving his Marvel Masterpiece but it feels good to appreciate someone before everyone else did. Since it has been 20 years since Buffy premiered, I don’t have to worry about spoiling anything but if you haven’t seen Buffy and Angel stop reading now and go watch it.

I don’t remember when and how exactly I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer but it must have been around 19981 and I immediately fell in love with the show2. I was exactly the right age to relate to the characters and their problems and it the fact that the characters and their problems grew (up) with me made the show all the more exciting. Buffy was/is genre TV at its best, I love the story-arcs and even the standalone episodes have monsters that stand as a metaphor for a familiar problem growing up. I don’t and didn’t mind that the main character is a girl, hell I like girls and the show probably had a big influence on the type of girls I like.

One could say that I grew up with Buffy and the Scoobies and they heavily influenced me and how I see problems and how I deal with them. Don’t get me wrong, I not a Rogue Demon Hunter3 but I learned many lessons from Buffy. Not all demons are bad, sometimes people change from bad to good or the other way round and generally, as long as you work together, even the Apocalypse is avertable. Not bad lessons for a TV show about a girl who kills vampires.

I’m currently rewatching the whole Buffyverse and I’m surprised how well the shows hold up. Sure, the effects are not to current standards but that doesn’t matter, Buffy was never about dusting vampires or slaying demons was always about the emotions that led up to the confrontation with the monster. Some episodes are a bit on the nose but it was never condescending4 with a positive message. Even the really heart-breaking stuff like Angel turning evil or Buffy dying is used to perfection to create great emotional television moments. There are so many great moments but I’m not going to make a Top 10 List but I want to mention a few that are still with me, either because of their emotional impact or because they were just really good storytelling.

Angel turning evil after a moment of pure bliss is one of my favourite moments in TV history. Sure, the metaphor is on the nose and it’s interesting that the real thing that obviously inspired this choice happens in season 4. The whole season 2 Storyline with Angel is just great.

Another of my favourite moments is near the end of season 2 when her classmates name her “Class Protector”, I think I cried a little bit, it was just a powerful moment and yeah, killing the mayor was fun as well.

The season 5 finale The Gift and especially the final moment is probably one of the best season finales ever and it’s fitting that another of of my great moments happened in the season opener, at the end of a mediocre Dracula episode Buffy’s sister Dawn show up for the first time. What the $#!&, did I miss something? A great moment because it made you wonder what the deal with her was.

Last but not least, Buffy’s speech and Willow’s magic in in the series finale Chosen. Sure it basically feminism but I have no problem with that, none whatsoever, it’s great television and a powerful message to girls (and boys), the power is yours for the taking, what a great way to end a great show.

It’s no coincidence that most of these moments occur in episodes written and directed by Joss Whedon and I strongly recommend to check out all his episode not just Hush and Once More with Feeling. I also recommend listening to his audio-commentaries, especially “Becoming” where he reveals the secret to good storytelling, “emotional resonance and rocket-launchers”. You gotta love this guy.

There have been other great shows that stuck with me but no other show influenced me that much. The only other non Joss Whedon show (there will be a separate post about Angel and I will definitely write something about Firefly as well) that influenced me like Buffy did is Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, Buffy made me a feminist, Josh Lyman a liberal5.

So yeah, If you haven’t seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer or if it has been a while, revisit it. It’s definitely worth your time and it might make you a better person in the process. That’s pretty good for a 20 year old TV show. I doubt you can say that about Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Stay tuned for the second part of the Joss Whedon appreciation month, my post about Angel will follow soon.

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Still looking good.

  1. The show premiered in 1997 in the States so it probably aired here a year or so later.
  2. …and Buffy and Willow.
  3. Wesley is my favourite Buffyverse character though.
  4. Except that beer episode.
  5. Looks like I have to write about The West Wing as well. Damn.