Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Hard Look at the script of Indiana Jones

Finally--a chance to sit down and write my conclusions about the script of Indiana Jones! As a reminder of my intent, I've decided that one way to learn about writing is to take a look at scripts of movies that I have recently watched. The idea is that I can learn from seeing how the writers used words to tell their story.

I (not-so) recently watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a rip-roaring adventure that holds up surprisingly well to the test of time. I was on the edge of my seat, laughing out loud at the gags. A lot of modern movies don't do that to me. Indy definitely earns his role as an action hero icon in my book.

When I went and took a look a the script, there were four things which I noticed.

1) Pacing: Fast, fast, fast! The pacing is so fast as to verge on the ludicrous, with the main hero being whisked from one deadly crisis to another. The funny thing is, I didn't even notice the oddity of this while watching the movie, instead, I was on the edge of my seat! Suspension of disbelief at it's finest. Before any one problem is completely solved, another bogeymonster is already looming.

2) Non-verbal action: A professor once advised me to leave everything out of a script except dialogue.

Bullshit. Indiana Jones was filled with paragraphs of description of the action. Maybe that works for stage productions, but in film, a lot of the action is non-verbal. Apparently I can feel free to write in descriptions of the action. Most movie scripts probably wouldn't even make sense without it.

3) Style and format: Scriptwriting follows a very particular format, with action described in left-aligned paragraph style, names centered, and spoken words deeply indented beneath the centered name of the speaker.

Is there any easier way to meet that style? Formatting all of that by hand seems like a huge f*ing pain in the ass.

4) Improvisation: the final product often had subtle, but important differences from the original script. The Director apparently has a lot of creative freedom to change specific lines, add in jokes and gags, and sometimes even change whole scenes. In the case of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I found these changes to be universally additive, staying true to the spirit, while adding valuable content. In fact, some of the best jokes in the whole movie were not in the original script. But I would hazard a guess that directorial edits are not always this good.

5) I'll give you a fifth as a bonus: Funny. The tense and life-threatening scenes were liberally sprinkled with humor, often yo-yoing the reader from tense fear to ludicrous laughter at a moment's notice. This, clearly, is the area I need to improve.

I'm not sure if I'll keep reading movie scripts, but I definitely found this interesting. I still think that the best way to get produced in film would be to write something really excellent in novel or comic format. Anyway, I have far enough to go even to get there.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Current Project

Alright, I think it is about time I sit down and direct my attention back toward writing. I've had fun perusing random political/socio-economic things, but what's really important for me to do right now is develop my craft.

My current project (which is still in it's infancy stages) is a dark story set deep in the southern deserts of this world. With inspirations such as Dark Sun and the Dark Tower series, our hero must journey deep into the desert and delve into ancient, long-sealed tombs in order to try to find the secret behind the mysterious dreams he has been experiencing, and hopefully free himself from a curse which has taken from him everything that he loved.

So, my question is, in a dark story like this, how do I keep it interesting? How do I give the player a ray of hope? See, in this story, I happen to know that there's a bad ending. The character gets to his destination, and his choices are either to free himself from the curse, but die in the process, or embrace the curse and gain magnificent power and immortal life.

So, I can presage the choice (it is a gamebook after all--a genre focused on choices), but I want something more. Some basis for immediate tension.

The angle I'm considering taking is making it a bit more of an adventure story, rather than focusing on just the dark. Yes, he's cursed, and he wants to free himself from the curse, but maybe that doesn't need to mean that he gives up on life. Maybe he's still a swashbuckling hero, out to do good where he can, and determined to free himself?

In a setting of desert and ruins, this could open the door to a lot of Indiana Jones style adventures. Which could make it more fun, and add a fun element to a dark story.

So I watched Indiana Jones for inspiration!

Then, in order to study it more, I pulled down the movie script and read it, to study how the written word turns into a complete movie experience. Next time, my lessons from the Indiana Jones movie script!

Ashdown Talk about the Shift of Power

I just watched a very interesting TED talk by Paddy Ashdown about the shifts of power going on in the world today. He made several points:

A) Power is moving vertically, from the nation-state to the global community. With how interconnected everything is today, international governance will become increasingly important. Per him, this will probably not happen through the establishment, or strengthening, of an international government. Instead, this will be governance enforced by international treaties--something we are already seeing.

B) Power is moving horizontally, away from the West and the USA, toward the entire world. The West will no longer be clearly dominant, as other parts of the world rise in power, wealth and technology. The USA will probably remain the pre-eminent power for a while yet, but it will be the first among many, rather than the only kid in the park.

C) Power is moving away from military strength, and into other areas: industry, technology, infrastructure and social clout. The world is so interconnected now, no nation-state can crouch, self-sufficient, behind their walls, because no one is self-sufficient behind their walls. Riots and grain shortages on one continent can have consequences across the world.

We must understand that we have a shared destiny, with each other, and with our enemies.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Future of Energy

Getting active with a blog again has reminded me of the energy blog which I was doing earlier this year, before an overwhelming amount of spam and an underwhelming amount of real interest killed my enthusiasm for it. I'm still interested in the question of green energy, and, let's face it--it looks bleak at the moment.


When I sat down to write this, it was going to be about how screwed we are. But then I remembered the key ingredient that means there is hope. We're not going to face economic collapse when we run out of fossil fuels, when none of the "alternative" energy methods are capable of producing energy on the scale we need.

I hate to say it, and you're probably all going to kill me for it, but that hope is two words: Nuclear Power.

Of course, Nuclear comes with it's own down-sides, of which I'm sure you're all aware. But the simple fact is that it's the only method we have of producing energy on the scale we need, other than fossil fuel. And fossil fuel is both more limited and even more controversial and dangerous. It will only buy us a couple centuries. But that should be plenty of time for the march of technological discovery to completely shift the paradigm.

Let's look at the other options:

Solar Power: Currently unable to produce energy on the scale that we need it. A good way of taking the edge off, but nothing more. To even attempt more would be to blanket deserts in solar panels, (and that still wouldn't be enough) which will probably never be attempted due to the eyesore, environmental damage, and expense.

Wind Power: Cannot produce power on the scale we need, even if the capabilities are maximized. Not even close. Also, it wreaks havoc on already-threatened bird populations, and many people complain it is an eyesore. (I happen to like the aesthetic of wind farms, myself. They are deliciously desolate.)

Fossil Fuels: Nobody likes it, but these will remain a staple for a long time, until other options become economically more feasible. We have enough for another 50-100 years--but that's total in all the earth. To get it, we need to go to increasingly distant and dangerous locations. We're talking arctic drilling, deep sea drilling, and massive implementation of coal plants. I'd rather see nuclear power, which is at least clean when it's working properly. The biggest danger here is climate change due to pumping carbon into the atmosphere, which is a very real possibility--but I think there has been enough international attention now to avert that potential disaster. I hope. God, I hope.

Bio-Fuel: *spitting rage* Don't even get me started! This is the most blind and short-sighted example of environmental activism that I've ever heard of! Expensive, inefficient, incapable of meeting our needs, AND it takes as much fossil fuel in transportation and fertilizer to produce it as it produces. It's a way of taking X amount of fossil fuel and using up a lot of land and money to produce an equivalent amount of Bio-Fuel. Ridiculous. The sooner we cut this the better.
[Edit: It has come to my attention that there is a type of bio-fuel, cellulosic, which is made from wood chips and inedible plant matter such as corn cobs. This, and other bio-fuels made from waste products, are not only OK but fantastic. But growing corn for fuel is ridiculous and should be outlawed.]

Nuclear: Nobody likes it, but it's the only method of producing energy on the scale our society requires. Also, when it works, it's clean. Catastrophic failure of nuclear plants is, well, catastrophic. But when you're providing power to cities, you're playing Prometheus. Nothing is safe.

My Forecast: Continuing scares around energy shortages and battles over protected land for oil rights, but as fossil fuels become untenable due to resource shortages and environmental regulations, the slack will be picked up by nuclear power. This should get us an extra century or three, and by then we should be able to find a solution to the question of getting energy from massive orbital solar-collecting satellites down to cities and industrial centers on earth.

All told, we're probably OK. Unless we don't get filters on those goddam coal plants going up everywhere.

Thank God for Justice, or rather, thank Justice Hellmann

One of the things that I'm finding I'm enjoying about getting into the "blogosphere" is simply the prospect of reading some of the other blogs that are out there. When I was investigating the Amanda Knox and Raffaelle Sollecito story last summer, I came across a blog by a former FBI Agent Steve Moore, who wrote some excellent articles breaking down and analyzing the evidence, and explaining the dangerous violations of freedom and justice that had allowed a single arrogant prosecutor to manipulate the legal system into imprisoning them when all evidence pointed the other way.

It provided me a clear and sound warning against what can happen, when diligence in court is not exercised.

A lot of my friends seemed a little wierded out at the time, that I grew so passionate about these two young people being imprisoned. Why them? Well, frankly, because their case was clear cut. There are lots of "free so-and-so" movements, but rarely do I find one where the injustice is so flagrant and undeniable. I can't stomach that. Sure, it was a celebrity scandal--whatever. That doesn't mean it wasn't wrong.

I am profoundly, profoundly relieved that the Italian courts re-grouped from the original disgraceful trial and freed two innocent people. The fact that they were imprisoned in the first place is still deeply alarming. I hope I never forget the lesson about how bad things can happen to good people when the justice system goes awry.

Thank you, Judge Pratillo Hellmann. Thank you for doing what should have been done 5 years ago. Thank you for restoring your small piece of sanity and fairness to this crazy world.

I apparently have a blog now

I've always looked on the personal blog with a certain amount of derision. Who really cares about your asinine personal thoughts, not in any polished, purposeful form, but just whatever you happen to feel like writing about today? So it is with a certain degree of abashed guilt that I start my own.

But I think it is, or rather, can be, useful. My excuse is that a lot of this stuff I'm thinking about anyway. Writing it down is wholly useful for my own sake, and that is enough to justify the existence of this blog. If other people can get some benefit or enjoyment from reading it, so much the better. Furthermore, if I'm really lucky, I might provoke dialogue and thoughtful responses to inspire my thoughts in new directions that I might not have otherwise explored.

I basically have three interests: Writing, Game Design and Society/Economics/Politics. There are many other interests I have, in theory, but in practice, those three topics are what I find I spend most of my time thinking about. At the moment, my primary focus will most likely be discussing my ideas as I work through writing a gamebook and, in a broader sense, exploring how to write a good story.

We who are about to die, salute you.