Saturday, September 16, 2006

My 50th Review

I recently posted my 50th review on TriggerStreet – of David Muhlfelder’s The Professor’s Widow (which was great fun, by the way).

My reviews average 2,000 words (sometimes a lot more). There’s usually 1,000 words for the review and another 1,000 for the running notes. (I’m always apologizing to the authors. “I’m so sorry,” I tell them. “I could sneeze a thousand words.”) In fact, keeping the reviews DOWN to 2,000 words is a constant struggle, as it doesn’t even represent maybe a third of all my thoughts.

In any case, with my 50th review, I’ve now contributed over 100,000 words of critical thought on the art of screenwriting.

Of course, many others have written far more reviews but they aren’t as thorough. There’s nothing wrong with that. For me, though, it was never about quantity. What’s the point of writing hundreds of reviews if you get nothing out of it?

By far, my most popular reviews – a 3-part series on the comedies of Ger, which are highlighted in my post -
Comedy Writing Secrets.

So I thought I’d share highlights from 5 reviews I enjoyed writing. (And like all of my reviews, this entire post is, coincidentally, 2,000 words.)

The Uncrowned King:

I think one is first drawn into this story by John Browner's wonderful rendition of the Irish dialect, not to mention the speech and mannerisms characteristic of the late 1800's, no small feat that. You can almost hear the infectious Irish lilt in Parnell's voice. There is peppered throughout this spec the famously characteristic and highly-colored Irish hyperbole, the flowery exaggerations - "It is a good sign that this masquerading knight-errant, this pretended champion of the liberties of every other nation except those of the Irish nation, should be obliged to throw off the mask today..." And there is also a taste of some vivid simile filled with a soulfulness that would typify a sentimental Irishman - "The National Land League is fraying apart like an old blanket." Aye, lad, it'd scald the heart out of ye.

I also loved the etiquette. "And to what, Mrs. O'Shea, do I owe the honor and pleasure of your summons?" "I was hoping, sir, that you might be persuaded to join my husband and me at a small dinner at Thomas's Hotel in two nights time..." "I will most definitely and with great pleasure accede to your wishes." At a time when our loved one would say to us, "Don't be such an ass," Katie would ever so politely say to Parnell, "Pray be not petulant, Sire."

On For Greece:

I read this script because I really wanted to, and I must say, this spec did not disappoint. What I love about this story is not just the comeback of an athlete whose life and dreams were set adrift by war, but that Stelios sensed in himself the best way to use his own talents not for personal glory but as a means of helping his own suffering country. I loved the fact that the story did not open with a contrived "Inciting Incident," which is the first major event of a story that's usually the primary cause for everything that follows. I guess it could be argued that the Berlin Olympics was inciting, but you don't really feel it. We move through these events because this was Stelios's life, an extraordinary life for sure, but his life nonetheless, and life does not always follow a special format. This was a man with dreams, the relationships he fostered along the way, the overwhelming struggles and pain he endured, and then in the end, instead of choosing bitterness, this was about Stelios's choice to use his abilities to help his fellow man because he knew he could do it. That's powerful.

Scene Shifter:

I've always had love/hate feelings for British stories. I'm drawn to them for their great imagination and I so love the spirited, powerful writing but... I've been burned one too many times by bad endings. It never fails. I will grab a book I want to read and in the back of my mind, a little voice always tells me, "Beware of British stories. They screw you in the end." How, you ask? Let's say a protagonist will be trapped in a dungeon with a killer, all seems lost, the antagonist moves in for the kill, and then suddenly out of nowhere, British forces BURST into the room, save our hero, handcuff the mad killer, and start talking about how they've been "monitoring" this guy for months. WHAT? Are you bloody kidding me? Nobody ever mentioned anything about the government in the 400 plus pages I sat through before I got to the ending! You can't be serious! How was I supposed to guess it was going to end this way? Why couldn't the hero save the day, or at least do something clever to outwit and outplay the antagonist, something I could've had a chance to guess at than to be blindsided by something no one could have possibly predicted.

Sapna’s Gift:

Not only am I a notorious Hollywood insider, a brilliant writer with cunning instincts, BUT I was also once... a renowned physicist. That's right. I'm expecting a Nobel any day now. Physics is as much a creative art as it is deep thought. Einstein, Newton, Maxwell, Bohr, Heisenberg, Galileo, Feynman, Dirac, etc, etc - all deep, creative thinkers. And when Edward began teaching Jaime that "We're in all places at once," I thought, "Ah ha! I got you, Ted! You're attempting to impress upon us Susskind's 'String Theory,' the 'theory of everything' in physics, the idea that there are many consistent laws of physics, not just the ones we happen to observe, and also that it is possible within modern inflationary cosmology to have a 'multiverse' where all these possibilities actually exist in different universes." What? Come on. How do you explain the Higgs Field? How do you justify in terms of the topology of Calabi-Yau manifolds why there are so many possible incarnations of particle physics? How do you explain most of cosmology for that matter - how we know there is vacuum energy, why inflation was invented as a theory of initial conditions and how inflation allows for an ensemble of universes? But then I also thought, "I wonder if Frothingham read 'Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension' in which renowned physicist Michio Kaku advocated a 'superstring theory,' a universe where space exists in 10 dimensions, where one can travel through time into the past, where holes in the fabric of space and time pop up and serve as shortcuts to other parts of the universe, and where the visible universe may be only one of myriad mini-universes that coexist like so many soap bubbles in a cosmic froth." What? Come on. This guy's just a Trekkie with a degree, right? How do you explain...

It does not matter. It's all debatable. The beauty or ugliness we perceive in the laws of physics or in a spiritual world beyond tells us as much about the human aesthetic response to life as it does about the fundamental design of the universe.

In other words, screenplays are a venue for the heart.

When Love is the Burden:

My mother's health is deteriorating, and this made me think of my father who faithfully stays by her side and never complains. This made me think of a friend of the family, Jerry, who's wife was once bright and beautiful and then she got sick and was never the same. Now she's incoherent, looks strange, behaves erratically, does embarrassing things in social situations, and I swear, it's a full-time job keeping her contained, but yet Jerry is still with her after all these years and has no plans of ever leaving her. This made me think of Michael who had five kids with his wife. She died of cancer. Now he's a single dad with five kids. He had to sell his house, give up his high-paying job, and redesign his entire life. This made me think a little of Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana. This made me think of a roommate I had who's wheelchair-bound and has an assistant come to help 3 times day for, I think, about $350 a week. This also made me think of something John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're planning something else."

This also touched upon one of my favorite ideas to explore in a story, the idea of loving someone who may not be capable of loving you back. It's a high road to take. It's a painful road. It's also, short of giving up your life for that person, the pinnacle expression of love. There is an emotional toll involved. You will be admired, but you will be lonely. Your needs will not be met anymore. And yet, you PROMISED in front of God and everyone that you would love her no matter what. By marrying you, she put her life, her happiness, her well-being into your capable hands. She is still your responsibility. And it just seems to me that people are so selfish nowadays. In most cases, I would imagine Fiona would be cut loose and forgotten. Hey, he's not getting anything in return out of this marriage anymore, so why bother, right? Most people will love someone else only if they're getting something out of it. Or they will only love if that person shows them love first. Or they will love you only as much as you show love to them. So that, if one day, they might slip up, and you only show 95% of love that day, then they will show you 80% of their love until you start giving them 100% again. And then the great spiral begins until the inevitable breakup. I have not gotten married yet. I'm still looking for "the one." I'm sure she's out there, and I'm sure I'll know it when I meet her. I'll feel so connected to her and be so in love with her that I wouldn't even think twice about giving up my life to care for her in the way Brian took care of Fiona, or the way Dana Reeve took care of Christopher, or the way my father continually takes care of my mother.

But of course, my long-time (and now very popular) writing friend would differ with me. We used to have discussions about reciprocating love over beers and zingers, oddly enough. He'd tell me that you can't just love blindly when someone else isn't loving you back. That's the way to get your heart broken. You have to protect yourself. And I would tell him, how is there to be any love if nobody steps up and starts doing the loving? What's wrong with being a loving person? That's the sign of a healthy life, is it not? If you're loving someone and that person isn't loving you back - BIG DEAL. You can't control other people. So just be a man about it. If your love is not being reciprocated, you're a better man by not letting it get to you. Tis better to give then receive, right? But what if she becomes a vegetable? She doesn't even KNOW you're loving her. But you love her and that's what you do when you truly love somebody. It doesn't make sense, but that's what you do 'til death. That's true love. How can we solve our own petty little problems in our relationship if we aren't shown examples of great love in movies? I'm sure Dana Reeve would be saying the same thing, would she not? How do you think she would feel about this? She'd approve, I'm sure.

I digressed. I'm SO sorry.

The fact that I felt compelled to write about reciprocating love speaks to this story's power to evoke thought and emotion…


wcdixon said...

Trying not to sound like an out of touch a little more about Triggerstrett. What is it exactly? Does it have an end purpose or destination for participants? What does it accomplish for you, and/or for others? Like, do you get paid to review?

Sorry - just trying to figure it all out...

wcdixon said...

Sorry - TriggerStreet...

Mystery Man said...

It's a community for screenwriters to review each other's work. Your story get's ranked, and if it gets in the top ten, you get a little blue star, and TriggerStreet, Kevin Spacey's production company, has 90 days to choose to option the story. They also have Screenplays of the month, pulled from the lot of Top Ten Favorites, which is judged by Scriptshark. They will do a professional analysis and if they love the script, they will also take you on and send the spec out to producers, etc. That's not everything, but those are the basics.

Anonymous said...

wcdixon, you don't know about Triggerstreet? Most of us who comment on MM's blogs here are from TS (our shorthand for it).

There are a lot of rules, but they are all in place for valid reasons. If you become a member, and work hard at it, you will learn all kinds of cool stuff.