What I'm Working On Now

Three short films are in Post-Production, soon to be submitting to film festivals.
Producing/editing a pilot for a new web-series inspired by the Alice in Wonderland tales.
Producing/editing a documentary on Gene Roddenberry and the genesis of Star Trek The Original Series.
There are a number of other projects in development, just waiting their turn to be produced.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Character Voices

     As I've been working on so many different projects recently, it has become a bit of a focus of mine to make sure that every character has his/her own voice. Now, obviously, individual character voices are always important and I don't want you thinking that I've neglected it in the past. My point is that with my recent experience I've been able to break down a little more cognitively the method I use when creating a character. This is by no means the only way to do this, just as there are many ways actors create characters they portray, so it is with writers.

     The first elements I determine for my characters are actually more about the world the character will inhabit:

1) Geography: Where the story takes place, where the character will be from, where they'll go, etc.
2) Era: Time period of the story and accompanying social norms
3) Age: How old the character is not only at the beginning of the story but throughout the entire plot and what the norm would be for a person in the world thus defined

     My reasons for doing this, I feel, are simple. This gives me a basic pallet to draw from as I build the more complex elements around the character. To illustrate this, I'll use Joan from the story IMMOLATION that I'm writing now.

     I knew I wanted the story to begin in suburban American Midwest so Joan could begin in fairly unexciting surroundings and then move into the wider world around her. I wanted the era to be modern times, perhaps a bit into the future so I could play with the worlds politics, technology and such while still maintaining a certain amount of normalcy for the reader. Joan, I determined, would start out around 17 or 18 years old; on the cusp of adulthood and all those changes that come with it. Then I would move her out of high school and into college, relationships, work and all the other normal things people deal with.

     Once the world is set I began adding the surface character details:

1) Patience: How far can she be pushed before she pushes back
2) Intro/Extrovert: How social is she
3) Self Esteem and Pride: Does she see herself as better than others, think well of herself, etc.
4) Gender: Fairly self explanatory

     I wanted Joan to always have an edge to her so I limited the amount of patience I gave her and added a fair bit of pride. In the beginning of IMMOLATION,  Joan even comes across as being a bit of a jerk. While she does tone down I don't let it fade completely. Joan is also a bit of an extrovert. If she were at a party and wanted to get to know someone, she'd go over and introduce herself. Her high self esteem also helps feed her socializing. I discussed how I decided that Joan would be female in my last post but essentially it was the combination of numerous outside influences.

     Now I add elements that may or may not come into the story but nonetheless help me in writing the character:

1) Family and Friends: What are the relationships, how do they get along, etc.
2) Habits: Daily routine, Nervous ticks, etc.
3) Psychology: Phobias, Depression, Insanity, etc.
4) Beliefs: Philosophy, Religion, etc.

     Joan never got along with her family, which comes out a little in the story and may be referenced later in the story as well. Joan, in the beginning views friends as people she can use to make her feel better. As Joan develops she'll go through a transformation where she will learn to appreciate people for who they are and not just what they can do for her. For habits, Joan counts steps, brushes her teeth in the same order every time and does everything left handed when she's in public even though she's right handed because she likes the attention being left handed brings. Joan's psychology begins fairly normal with a fear of spiders and medium sized rodents (rats, guinea pigs, etc.) but through the story she develops some more severe psychological problems brought about by having to live with her ability to burn. She becomes afraid of loving as intense emotions causes her to burn. She also forms some more serious psychological problems like depression, defeatism and, eventually, a belief that it is her purpose in life to destroy the world. While I try to keep my stories neutral as far as religion is concerned, Joan was raised with the basic tenets of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Joan herself begins with the standard smatterings of morality and concern for other people, but she also has a strong independent streak that lets her feel okay about pushing people down stairs when they annoy her.

     Once all of this is set, I determine what the character actually looks like. In Joan's case, I haven't put my description into the story yet. This is a habit that I've formed over the years, and not always a good one. Some stories that I've written flow just fine without ever giving a description of the main character, others do not and I'll just have to see how this one works. Either way, I almost never put in a description of the main character until the story is finished. For me it's the icing on the cake and can't be added until the end.

     As soon as a character is solidified in my mind, it becomes that much easier to isolate him/her and figure out how he/she would behave in any given circumstance.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

SPOILER ALERT-This post contains details of IMMOLATION and its plot. If you don't want the story to be spoiled, don't read past the next Spoiler Alert.

     So many stories, for me at least, begin as dreams. I have always had very lucid, very real dreams and have made a habit of trying to remember them when I wake up in the morning. When first becoming aware in the mornings I make sure NOT to open my eyes right away. The reason for this is that your brain waits to finish waking up until your eyes are open. In short, you can still remember your dreams more readily. As soon as you open your eyes, the dream gets shunted back into your subconscious so if you haven't put time into going over the dream, imprinting it into your conscious memory, it will most likely be lost. This doesn't work all the time, but it will greatly increase your chances of remembering your dreams.

     The story of IMMOLATION was inspired by a dream I had a few months back and I find it interesting how my dreams develop into full stories. Hopefully the following will be equally interesting to you and useful as you all tell your own stories.

     I walked alone through a vast open land. The sun sat on the verge of rising. The ground sloped with countless hills and dales and a short grass covered all. No other plant or animal life was anywhere to be seen. I ran at times but mostly I walked through the strange expanse until the sun finally crested the distant horizon and the world flooded with golden orange light. I couldn't turn away from the blinding light. I tried but was drawn on.  I reached a deep valley and for a moment the sun was blocked from view. As I crested back out of the valley I was met not only by the glaring light of the sun, but also by a figure, a person, who stood between two skeletal trees. The figures back was to me, and it was burning. I could only make out the figure's outline and so I could make out none of its features or gender. The trees had no leaves but were otherwise unaffected by the figures fire which grew larger as the sun rose higher in the sky.
     As in many dreams, my mind filled in the gaps without any explanation. This person was going to burn the world. The fire spread outward. I turned, now a disembodied observer, and watched as the fire consumed the sloping fields, the world. All the while the figure stood between the two dead trees, arms outstretched and burning. There was no anxiety or fear in the figures posture, just a steady calm.

     And then I woke up. The dream was one of the more vivid ones I've had in a while and it burned itself into my mind. About the same time as my dream, there had been a string of people self-immolating (burning themselves to death) in protest to the Chinese government. These combined to the idea of someone attempting self-immolation only to discover that they're impervious to flame and therefore unable to fulfill their sacrifice.
     I dabbled with the idea for a while but writing a story about unfulfilled suicide is not something I'm very keen on. At least not right now.
     And so the story became more of one where a young person (gender wasn't decided yet) found she/he had the ability to burn at will and her/his struggle to find her/his place in society as she/he tries to live a normal life. This went through a few more iterations until I wrote the original short story of IMMOLATION with the (unnamed) main character bursting into flames in the bus station. It wasn't long after that I saw a music video that combined visuals from Eminem's music video for Love The Way You Lie with Adele's song Set Fire to the Rain. This video, available here, inspired two major changes to the story idea (SPOILER ALERT-Don't read further if you want the story to be a surprise).

1) There will be a love interest in the story who goes through major change (good to evil)
2) The main character will destroy the world

     I like to use symbolism in my stories. Some obvious and some not so obvious and so the main character finally solidified in my mind and Joan was born. The image of the burning figure in my dream, the self-immolations, the music video, all focused my mind on Jeanne d'Arc, more commonly known as Joan of Arc. The young woman who, though she'd rather be at home, living a normal life, felt the calling to stand up for what she believed in and, in the end, was burned at the stake (see La passion de Jeanne d'Arc for her final days, the film used the notes the scribes made during her trial).

     I wanted my Joan to follow a (symbolically) similar path as her trials mount until she's forced to stand up for what she believes is right. And of course, in the end she burns...though it's a bit of a reversal where she isn't the one consumed. I'm also beginning the story with her trial instead of ending with one. I like mirroring things in my stories, either of events that happen all within the story or mirroring events that I'm basing the story off of.

     Naturally, the story is not going to be a complete allegory of Jeanne d'Arc's life but rather I will draw from it just as I have drawn from my dreams and other sources to create this story.

     In the near future I'll post more about the characters of Matt and Judge Dervin and how they've been formed,

Friday, February 17, 2012

Weighing the Benefits, Comparing the Costs

     I want to make movies. This, I should hope, doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. But it should also be quite clear to anyone following this blog that I'm doing a lot more writing than filming at the moment. the reason is simple: I can write for free, it costs money to make movies. It seems to be the same problem artists have had since time immemorial. We have beautiful masterpieces (every piece begins as a masterpiece) clamoring to get out of our minds if only we could afford the paint, the clay, the marble, the film. In the digital age its becoming easier for some of us. For filmmakers there are digital cameras, digital editing programs, digital sharing/distribution methods for our films. But even these have a cost associated with them and, at the end of the day, I still need to feed my family.

     At times I feel lost in the sea of video content that's available and more and more people read less and less. Sometimes I wonder if the Harry Potter series would have been so successful if it came out now instead of a decade ago. But still I have stories to tell and so long as I get to tell them I suppose I can't complain.

     It's this drive to create that has made artists through the ages do what they do regardless of their situations. Van Gogh lived in terrible conditions, just so he could use what little money he did get to buy his art supplies. I know I am no Van Gogh, I have no illusions about that. All our creative talents must be developed like any other talent and I am new in this field of film making. But I hope to succeed, to see my stories take shape and have real flesh and blood.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Education vs. Experience

     I'm working on my MA in Producing Film right now. I'm also working on getting a web series into Pre-Production. As I work on both of these I'm constantly being pulled between the two. Now don't get me wrong, I feel both of these ventures are important in their own right (that is, after all, why I'm pursuing both). However, it is a difficult juggling act to say the least.
     The web series I'm working on is geared as an educational/entertainment show much like Mythbusters or Bill Nye the Science Guy. As such I'm learning all about the process of applying for grants and seeking educational sponsorship. A colleague of mine has a fair amount of experience in the educational video production realm, having worked on films for NASA and the like in the past and I hope to glean all I can from him.
     This project has also brought up some questions for myself:

Where am I going with this? 
     This project could stay as simple as a website or grow into an IMAX film or television show. Sure these are pie in the sky outcomes but I want to be prepared for however things play out. If an IMAX film develops, I would be thrilled. The film would take a year or two and I'd have a blast. After it was all said and done I'd be able to move on with my other projects. With a television series, I'm not so sure I'd be as excited. A television show would be nice in that it provides regular, reliable (for filmmakers at least) work. But it would mean a long term commitment. I do love the premise for the series but I also have narrative films I feel the need to make.

How do I still make time to work on Narrative  Films?
     As a web series, the time required to maintain episode output would not prevent me from continuing to work on other projects. And, if I suddenly became involved in a feature film, I could pass the website on to someone else, put it on hold for a time, or walk away completely if it came to it.

Do I want to work in educational films?
    I grew up watching Bill Nye the Science Guy, Nova, Scientific American Frontier and Newtons Apple. I love science and I know that it was much of this educational programing that has nurtured that love. I feel it only right that I help continue the curiosity of the natural world. That is one of the main reasons I want to work on this web series. Nothing thrills me more that looking up at the night sky and wondering about the universe around us as our little planet flies through its dance through space.

     All in all, I am excited for this project and I am working hard to see it succeed. If it does turn out that I spend the rest of my life on this project, that wouldn't be so bad. I do love science, after all.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Quick Up-Date

     Last week there was a bit of confusion about when the next chapter of IMMOLATION was going to be posted and so, to clarify, each new chapter is posted on Monday, before 12:00 PM Pacific Standard Time (PST). Hope this clears things up for all of you.
     Also, I'll keep part 3 up an extra week for those of you who may have missed it.
Feel free to leave comments on the story and how it's going so far.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Little Space To Roam

     Following in the mode of my last post, I've been looking for ways to branch out as a storyteller in the digital age. I've been doing some research on Youtube, Vimeo, and the internet in general to see where I can settle in and have a place of my own. I know what format I want this new site I'm designing to take and the content I want to create. I haven't found anything else of it's kind but, through my research, I have found a lot of interest in it.

     The down side to my situation is the same problem I've had in the past with my other projects: Place and Equipment. However, unlike my other projects, I may have a solution available to me. With my other projects, the benefit was all on my side, and therefore made it difficult to partner with anyone else. My ideas, stories, credit, etc. However, with my new project I may have found a partner. I apologize for the ambiguity in all of this. Since none of this is official yet I don't want to start throwing my ideas out there only to see someone else get to them before I can. Also, as my partnership isn't set yet I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch. Suffice to say, they have been looking for content, and I have been looking for a little space of my own to shoot videos (with their equipment).

     Some of the sites I came across during my research have really inspired me so I'll list them below. Some of them are comedic, others are more serious, but all of them have found their place in the current digital world.

Rhett and Link
Ted Talks
Freddie W
Will It Blend
How Stuff Works

All of these have their own Youtube and/or Vimeo channels and other places online that they have found success reaching out to their audiences. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.