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November 19, 2005

Is The End In Sight?

Okay, I'm getting very close to completing the script. I've spent most of the whole day today finalising my thoughts and ideas and writing the romantic bits. They're not that romantic, but to be honest, I'm happy enough if I can write something that remotely works, and this one remotely works. In fact, thinking about it, there are faint parallels with the Titanic love story – parallels that have nothing to do with content but underlying structure. So that's basically 20 pages done.

Now comes the next difficult bit … and I really cannot afford to spend another two months to figure this one out.

The final act and the resolution.

The final act I can figure out stuff to include – what I'm worried about is that the audience will very quickly find it unengaging. The problem is the first place is that the story I'm writing flies against the face of conventional script plotting. My protagonist is a passive character – meaning he doesn't move things, things move him, or things try to move him and he doesn't. There is a hero's journey here – but that journey is never obvious. Random stuff happen – all the time, from the beginning of the script to the end; whereas in a 'real film' you need to have a certain linkage between events, a recognisable chain starting from the beginning of the story to the end.

And all those problems are much more acute in the final act, when all I have to show for the audience are the uncomfortable scenes. Those uncomfortable scenes are necessary, in the sense that it is partly what I'm making the film for – to allow the audience to experience frustration and boredom. However, in a 'real film', really, either I must find a way to make frustration and boredom appealing, or yank it out of the movie. And I can't figure out a way to make it appealing.

The worst part – the ending. I actually already have an ending in mind for the last two years – it was one of the first scenes I thought of when beginning to think about a film that tells of a guy who lives different lives each day. Problem is, looking at the ending now, it seems very much an example deus ex machina. The thing about great endings are that, they should always be inherent in the story. Even though it is mostly surprising when presented to the audience, it should nevertheless be plausible – for example, the seeds of the ending should be present throughout the story. Take T2. How do you kill the T-1000? Almost all of the audience would be thinking that question at the end of the movie, when no matter what Arnie does the bloody guy just keeps reassembling. When finally the T-1000 gets thrown into the lava pool, the answer was like, so obvious. It's logical. And – this is the key – potentially, the audience could have thought of that earlier on. (It doesn't matter that it's so coincidental that they end up in an industrial plant with a lava pool, because emotionally the audience is so engrossed in the film that any way to destroy the villain ingeniously and save the characters is welcome.)

So, to come up with the perfect ending – and I keep feeling at the back of my mind that it can't be that far away, that it's barely visible, such that it almost seems like it didn't exist, but it's there – I would need to have dump this one. But then I'm too stuck with this particular idea.

On the other hand, even James Cameron made a mistake and wrote an inappropriate ending for Titanic, which can be seen as an alternate ending in the new 4-DVD release of the film. According to Cameron, the ending works on its own (though I don't think so, but then I didn't write the film so I wasn't thinking in the same terms he was as a writer) – but within the context of the ending of the film it just didn't work, hence the version we currently see now, which works a whole lot better.

I guess, the point is, I can always come up with an ingenious, non-deus ex machina ending. But then that is just plain lazy. But then I don't have time. I'm already three weeks behind schedule.


November 01, 2005

Gout Regout

Gout returns.

That's a sentence structure that's usually reserved for super-hero types. Well, gout isn't. It's a pain in the arse. No, a pain in the joints – the heels. I can't walk – completely incapacitated. This after a few days of trying to suppress a chesty cough and on the verge of falling into flu (which I managed to avoid, yay! … oh …).

I must be the only person in Warwick who has gout. Okay, leave out people above 25 … i.e. the lecturers, staff and so on … yeah, okay, there might be students above 25 …

Point is, gout usually affects older people. And as much as I used to take pride at being perceived as older (in Malaysia that's how we say more matured … like, you guys say bowler hats, cap, and so on, we just say hat for all of those), gout almost NEVER happens to people below 30. I'm the freaking outlier.

So anyway, when I tell people who are familiar with gout – mostly my medic friends – that I'm having to deal with it, they always seem to come up with a sentence that includes these five words, "... so young already got gout ah …" (that last one doesn't count, it's a phatic utterance in Malaysian English). For my medic friends, the next thing they say is exactly the same as well, except I can't reproduce it … they give me a list of symptoms, treatment, prevention, diet information about it, and it's all the same information. I'm always surprised by that, because they all give the information in the same order. But on the other hand, I guess it's comforting that the doctors of the future are all agreeing with each other. (Except when they happen to be wrong.)

As for the script, yet another idea.

Make it like A Beautiful Mind. In that film, the audience is led to believe one thing, then the story twists inside out. That is not done because Ron Howard and co. are being coy. It's done because it's the best way to represent the disease of schizophrenia to the audience – we are being led to experience exactly what it is like to be told that your best friend, career, etc doesn't actually exist.

So, what I think would be interesting, is to present the story first not through Jeremy's POV. We present it through the eyes and thoughts of those he meets when his lives start changing. So yeah, the audience wouldn't know what is going on at first. Maybe we play out three different days – some will have gotten the hint by then. Then, halfway through the film, we switch to Jeremy's POV - and he begins telling the story from before everything happened.

This is a radical departure from the story I first had in my head, and also quite a radical departure from my storytelling principles. You see, making the story like that, I'll have to utilise techniques that give the film a Chris Nolan feel. Nolan's latest film is Batman Begins (lucky bastard) … but that's not the point. In his first movie, Following, he jumps the story back and forth seemingly without any reason. Basically it makes the audience think harder, because they have to spend some minutes figuring out where the scene lies chronologically. And I guess that works because if he hadn't done that, the story would have been real boring. (It already is, even at 70 mins.) Then he does Memento, the much-loved Memento (freaking no. 22 at IMDb.com), which you probably know, goes backwards. And how does he do transitions for such chronologically screwed up movies?

He straight cuts to black for a few seconds, then straight cuts to the next scene. I didn't exactly like that. I mean, it works, but it rings pretentious to me.

But then, the guy got to direct a multi-millon dollar film in Hollywood. For his fourth film. Maybe I should take the hint.

So yeah, I would have to mess up the storyline a little. Just to make it more interesting. And after all I said about Nolan, no it isn't exactly like what Nolan was doing.

But then, maybe after I've made it, I won't be loved. Critics will call me a hack – that technique's overdone, they say.

You can't please everyone.


October 27, 2005

It Returns

Follow-up to Where Has It Gone? from Cinematic Concerns

It occured to me today where it has gone.

It refers to the creator of interesting stories once found inside my head, but that has mysteriously disappeared these days.

Turns out it didn't disappear, per se. It just needs a catalyst to work. What catalyst?

It occured to me when I was on a train today. Went to Birmingham to get some shopping done – that and long-time-no-eat duck rice. On the way back, on the train, very naturally, a stream of ideas for a new movie came into my head – and yes, they were very interesting ideas, at least to me. And there was no struggle, it just all flowed. I was thinking, what I want to happen next, and it comes, and I think, how bout if we do this different, and I come up with a better idea – all happening within seconds. Then another. Then another.

And now I have enough material to write, oh, half a script – the general outlines of it anyway. Can it be made? Dunno, coz this one's too controversial, so I won't talk about it.

Anyways, it was when I reached home that I remembered.

I haven't traveled in a vehicle in a long time.

I used to do that in the past – a lot. That's coz my school tended to be far away from my house. During primary school I would have to take hour-long school-bus rides to get home. During secondary school we have a car-pooling system but it still takes half an hour to get back.

And it was then that my mind wanders and conjure up all these stories.

The moving images outside the window helps me think.

That was the key all along. I knew it, all this while – yet I've forgotten. I've forgotten coz when I'm staying on campus, there's never a need to get on to moving vehicles.

Now I remember.


October 23, 2005

The Naked Revelation

Okay, so I've been listening to Big Right from Newman's Cinderella Man, over and over again, and this idea came bubbling up … and a weird one too.

First of all, Big Right is used at the end of the film, the climax, when the protagonist winning looks like a possibility, and the entire crowd stands up and looks on in awe of something they didn't quite expect to happen happening before their eyes, some with mouths gaping. The music is uplifting, dramatic, soaring.

And the scene I have in my head, with this piece of music accommpanying, is this. The protagonist of my story, for whatever reason, begins to realise something. It is a PROFOUND realisation. And, with a DETERMINED look on his face, he begins to walk, confident stride. He takes off his jacket and flings it away. He unbuttons his clothes, still walking. He flings that away. People are beginning to notice him. His eyes are always looking to the front. He grabs his shoes and pulls out his socks, fling those as well. He pulls down his pants, and eventually his boxers - everything, gone. Flings it as hard as he can, and immediately begins to run - run to somewhere.

Does this sound dramatic? If I can provide the reasoning, does this sound like something the audience will root for, something the audience feels like clapping to? (If porn comes anywhere near this, I don't want to hear it. It's not like that. You know it.)

UPDATE: I've figured out now why the character would do that. So obvious …


Another Eureka Moment

Yes, another one has arrived, but I'm not as euphoric as the last time now. Every eureka moment is cautiously followed – I might be led down another sinkhole, another dead end. It is also a potentially liberating thread of thought.

I was thinking, what could a man without a past and a future do?

The most obvious answer is, to help people, regardless of who they are, whether you know them (chances are you don't).

But hey, noble stuff. Also the stuff that makes people go "That's incredulous!" and laugh at the screen. We have sceptics for audiences these days.

Then it hit me.

The Book Of Jonah.

Whatever his mission is – and this is the part that still needs figuring out … if a man with no past and future has to do something, what is it? if not to help others, what is it? something heroic, something decisive, something dramatic, something that the score track Big Right from Newman's Cinderella Man can support – he is running away from it, or he doesn't know what it is and is searching for it in the first half of the film.

And the climax is when he sees, clearly, what the mission is, that he has to accept it, and accepts his mission.

Now, it takes another eureka moment to get to what that mission is.

Stay tuned.


October 20, 2005

The Two Hollywoods

(And yet another entry with words from William Goldman. Sorry, just couldn't resist. In case this isn't clear, all the quotes are taken from Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures In The Screen Trade.)

There are really two kinds of flicks – what we now call generic Hollywood movies, and what we now call Independent films.

Hollywood films – and this is crucial to screenwriters – all have in common this: they want to tell us truths we already know or a falsehood we want to believe in.

Hollywood films reinforce, reassure.

Independent films, which used to be called "art" films, have a different agenda. They want to tell us things we don't want to know.

Independent films unsettle.

Understand, we are not talking here of art and commerce. Hollywood films can be, and often are, art. Independent films, most of them, for me anyway, are pretentious and boring.

And yes, I know my definitions are simplistic. Hollywood films can unsettle, Independent films can reassure. But in general, for this discussion, let's go with them.

One quick example to be mentioned here – Shakespeare In Love, art flick or Hollywood?

I might be tempted to say, my God, it's Shakespeare, how can it not be an art film? Plus those costumes, Dame Judi, all the other British accents. If ever there was an art film, doesn't it have to be this baby?

Not even close. Because what Shakespeare In Love tells us is that the love of a good woman makes everything wonderful. Well, I don't know about you, but I want to believe that. I want to have a shot at Gwyneth's sweet boobies, because I just know they can change the world.

… We want to believe. Life would be just so much happier a place if only that were so. But alas, it's Hollywood horseshit. (Although I sure wanted to believe it when I was in the theater.)

Does the fact of the two Hollywoods affect screenwriters? … It does and it doesn't.

It does not remotely affect how we tell our stories. It totally affects which stories we choose to tell.

Famous cartoon from fifty years back. A couple are at the original run of Death Of A Salesman. The man turns to the woman, here's what he says: "I'll get you for this!"

The point is that most of us work all day, often at something we don't much love anymore but we do it till we drop. At the end of our average days, we want peace, we want relaxation, maybe a bite of food, a few kind words. We do not want to watch Willy Loman's suicide.

What we are really dealing with when we talk of the two Hollywoods is audience size.

Most people want to be told nice things. That we really are decent human beings, that God will smile on us, that there is true love and it is waiting for you, just around the next corner. That the meek really will inherit the earth.

Most people want to be told nice things. I cannot repeat that too often to anyone who wants to screenwrite for a living. You can be Bergman if you have the talent, you can tell sad human stories – but do not expect Mr. Time Warner to give you $100 million to make your movie.

The studios are in business for only one great and proper reason – to stay in business. If you want to tell a reassuring story, no reason not to shoot for a studio flick with all the, yes, good things that entails. If you want to tell a different story, write it wonderfully but write it small. Avoid car chases and star parts and special effects.

Great careers are possible in Independent film. The Coens and John Sayles are as good as anybody operating anywhere.

Join them. God knows we can use you.


October 15, 2005

Where Has It Gone?

I used to write stories and publish them on the Net during my early teen years. It was when the age of the Internet was beginning, when I was probably the only person in class who has an Internet connection, when half of my classmates probably don't know what the Internet is, when I myself don't fully understand it, in the same manner that I didn't understand what a computer is when I was five, but I enjoyed playing around with it anyway.

Back then, websites don't have flashy, colourful stuff. Usually it's black on grey, and you make things interesting using larger or smaller serif fonts. Images and stills were rare. Modems were 14.4 kbps. And back then, there were websites which allow children around the world to write stories and publish them.

And boy did I write.

It started with one website for kids, with story-writing being one of its facilities. The first story I wrote was basically a rehash of Independence Day, a film I saw and liked so much that it stayed in my mind for months. (And in hindsight I realised it was a turning point in my life – it was the movie that made me think of the world in terms of film reality, and laid the seeds for my desire to get into filmmaking.)

I can't remember how I felt about it, but I guess I enjoyed it, coz I went on to write many more stories for the next three years; eventually thinking about the stories would take up hours of my time. But it all came very naturally, no struggle, no accompanying headache or migraine, no agonising over writers' block – if it doesn't come I just don't write.

And very interesting stories they were. Usually I feel like writing a story because of its high concept – story about the longest train in the world and the inevitable disaster, story about a plane carrying an airborne and extremely virulent virus forcing it not to land (yet land it must when fuel runs out), a story about a hero trying to stop a terrorist who possesses incredible weapons such as sound bombs and asteroid bombs from completely wiping out the US, a (very long) story about the downfall of Atlantis which involves the entire continent being flipped up into the sky before sinking (and managing to justify that logically). Sometimes I feel like writing a story because I could play around with the details – a ghost story where the investigators have benevolent ghosts to help them solve cases, kids escaping from a haunted house purely by cooperation through some of the weirdest stuff to ever come out of my mind, the (unfinished) sequel to that when one of the kids grow up to go to college, Agatha Christie-like murder mysteries, and so on.

The grammar was bad (even though I took pride at having the best standard of English compared to everyone I knew back then), and the descriptions were childish. The dialogues were very immature where everything said seemed to be exposition.

But hell, they were really imaginative stuff. I really enjoyed writing them coz I thought they were good, interesting stuff. Things other people won't have thought of.

What I want to ask is … what the hell happened?

Why can't I tap into that part of my brain anymore? I sit here now trying to write the damn script and I have absolutely no idea. That doesn't make sense! It used to come so easily. I'll come up with something, then twist it and mould it until it looks out-of-shape enough yet fitting as part of the storyline. Now I couldn't even come up with something – everything feels bland, cliched. Everything that comes out of my mind gets shot down. They're all so normal, the ideas I came up with.

I made very sure that I want to do this story right – I will not make the film if I am not happy that the story is good enough, imaginative enough. At the same time I don't know what to write. Maybe I shouldn't do it?

This makes me feel so stupid. I marvel at myself at a younger age for being able to write interesting stories – I no longer understood how I did it. It's like us modern-day humans staring back at the ancient Egyptians, wondering, can they really be more advanced than us? The bloody thing sitting at Giza is very hard to ignore.


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