January 12, 2012


I’ve chosen to start re-watching the Harry Potter films in order to cull their creative secrets. I should be reading the books instead, and have indeed started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (cause philosopher’s aint american), but watching movies is a bit quicker. Since I’m trying to design a solid SciFi story with an adult protagonist, you might ask why I would be taking notes from a *shudder* coming of age fantasy series.



Simply put I’m trying to learn how JK Rowling handled a multi-book, 7 year story arc. Seeing the characters evolutionary path transitioned-out over a long period of time makes it easier for me to pick apart all the steps involved. So far it’s been fruitful, research-wise, and I’m only through the second film. In my little notebook I jot down stuff like this;

– capture a moment where the protagonist consciously decides to begin the journey; a no going-back moment.

I realize this is a pretty common transitionary tool, but I’m making an effort to teach myself how stories are actually built. Nuts and bolts stuff. And besides having read a great deal in my life, I have no formal training when it comes to the art of story-smithing. So on top of evaluating books and movies for their tricks and revealing tips, I’m also reading about how authors work, which has been good. For instance I was very heartened to hear that JK Rowling planned out the   { S E V E N } books of the Harry Potter series over a { F I V E } year period before she sat down to write the first book. And that she wrote the last chapter of the final book before she even finished the first novel. For a non-writer this is heartening, because it pulls back the curtain a bit. My assumption has always been that if you’ve got ‘what it takes’ to be a writer then you sit down, type ‘Chapter 1’ and then write a logical, interesting, linear story from start to finish. But the more I read about how people actually write, the better I feel about the process being messy, plagued with fits and starts, and generally difficult to execute.

PLUS I learned what ‘ trope ‘ means. Now I know what my English-major friends have been talking about.


November 10, 2011

“It looks like a Buffalo Bill type situation…”

I’m watching The Silence of the Lambs, which is one of two films I’ve been compelled to ‘binge-view’ (as in ‘I just watched this film, and now I’m going to watch it again in its entirety”). In the past I thought I just really liked the film. I’m a bit older now, and find myself trying to pick through those movies and other entertainment experiences that have thoroughly stuck with me – all because I’m currently trying to write something entertaining and ‘brain sticky’, to coin a term.


The film was released when I was 10, and I clearly remember reading a Newsweek article detailing the fact that this hypnotic, extraordinarily violent film had both 1) grossed out most of the viewing public, and 2) thoroughly cleaned up at the Oscars. Neat, I thought. But what I really remember about the article is a very small photo of Anthony Hopkins looking right at the camera with blood all over his face. Wearing a plain (albeit blood splattered) white t-shirt, his arm is held high, ready to strike the viewer with a club.

I had grown up hearing Tony Hopkins name because my parents had visited New York City in the 70’s and had seen Hopkins perform in the Broadway play Equus. In that play, which I understand involves horses, Mr. Hopkins is a psychiatrist. The Newsweek article didn’t mention Equus. BUT here he was again 15 or so years later playing another psychiatrist. AND while the film was obstinately about violent crime and police work, what the character of Hannibal Lector was after was really just… psychology. He spent the better half of the film cajoling Clarice Starling into divulging her deepest, most painful memory because seeing people from that particular perspective was what attracted him to psychology in the first place. He wants to see people for who they are. And if he can’t have that, he’ll eat your face.

Maybe because of all the face-eating involved, I had to work at convincing my folks to allow me to read The Silence of the Lambs novel when I was 14. It would be another year after that before I was allowed to rent the VHS tape (that would have been 1995, four years after it was released). That was the first time I watched it marathon-style, and the trend continues today. And the more I see it, the more I’m utterly horrified by it’s Venus-fly trap ability to use social mores to bring you, unblinking and uncertain, into the physical space typically occupied by the protagonist. That is to say, we are Clarice Starling. All because the characters stare direclty into the camera, which is calming in some scenes, and incredibly unsettling in others. So for now I think that’s why I really like the film; the eye contact. Also the music’s okay.

September 29, 2011

Death Wish 3: the best urban documentary ever

This movie is awesome.

How do you face danger?  Do you grab a 40 year old, tripod-mounted German machine gun, sans tripod?  Does the U.S. Postal Service ship you high-tech firearms and incredibly destructive military-grade ordinance? Would you befriend-with-benefits your publicly appointed attorney, only to stoically walk away from the burning wreckage that entombs her twisted remains? If that’s just how you roll then maybe Chuck Bronson will greet you with a beer and a smile when you stroll into the pearly gates.  Epic.

July 22, 2011

Movie Night at Marty’s = John. Daniels. awesome.

Movie night at Marty’s is a frequent escape I take from modern cinema’s obsession with faux professionalism. To clarify that; while the movies today are, for the most part, as equally awful and ridiculous as any period in American cinema, it’s become cheaper to make a good looking poster, trailer, soundtrack, and even film print. So while my enthusiasm often gets the better of me with movies that involve sharks, zombies, sasquachi, yakuza gangs, animal attacks, robots, underwater bases, artic research facilities, and jungle treks’s, I often find that the siren song of modern technology (3D graphics / green screen wizardry) has enabled the well-meaning directors of these films to produce awful, terrible junk. I mean it – many films made these days look so damned bad they’re unwatchable. If you had a chance to visit Blockbuster before they imploded, you know exactly what I mean; half of their inventory consists of poorly put together, technology driven knock-off versions of once popular films. I don’t care to look up the industry term for what this practice is called, but I’m sure Hollywood has put one together.

So. Since I like ‘good’ bad movies, I watch films at Marty’s on Thursday night’s. Marty is one of those rare folks that acts as a cultural filter. To put it in my own perspective; he’s passionate about the best of our creative American culture – that which is free of the damning label of ‘cultural relevance’, meaning the work itself does not fit clearly into the linear progress of the social, political, sexual or psychological evolution of our American Culture. Roughly that translates to ‘often violent, highly sexual, but extraordinarily well put together action or horror films from the 60’s,  70’s and 80’s’.  While the movies we watch hold an undeniable influence on cinema, and therefore a ghost-influence on the culture at large, they are largely unknown to the vast majority of movie-go’ers (which includes pretty much everyone). If they are eventually counted as ‘matterful’, it’s typically only after someone who DOES get counted in the chronology (like Quentin Tarantino) champions them as an influence in their own creative evolution.

So it’s with ears and eyes wide open that I watched the following two films tonight;

I’ll leave reviewing movies to Marty, but check them out sometime. John Daniels is kind of amazing. Incidentally, while I wrote this post I’ve been watching 1986’s Chopping Mall. The hair alone is worth the time.

April 13, 2011

HR Giger

As Ridley Scott is (sort of) jumping back into the world of Alien this Spring, I began poking around the Internet for HR Gigers original concept art and practical set pieces for The Derelict and The Space Jockey. These remain some of my favorite images in all of cinema; the mystery wrapped up in the very brief introduction of that long-dead character lingers over the entire series. The age of the cockpit (as implied by it’s long dead occupant), the massive scale of the elephantine pilot, the orderly presence of the Alien egg-pods, all of it is overwhelmingly odd and wonderful.