Friday, 29 October 2010

Time Travel Taboo

Just a quicky today:

Please be bloody careful when using time travel in a story. If your hero uses it to save the day, stop and think. Let's say I'm the Captain of the Starship Enterprise. The world has been destroyed, it's game over, I've lost, bad guy's won. But I can go back in time and stop it if I want.

"Good good, let's go back to the last possible moment I have to stop the bad guy, dragging William Shatner back with me. A solid plan."

What? WHAT?!!! The last possible moment?! How about you go back to the beginning of the movie and kill the fucker before he even has chance to plan anything?

"Well then there wouldn't be a story, would there!" I hear you cry.

No, there wouldn't. Which is a damnsight better than having a story that completely, absolutely, catagorically falls apart in Act III. As if the deus ex machina itself wasn't bad enough! Jeez!

So if you're going to use time travel, be very very careful. And make sure you watch two things first: a) Back to the Future and b) Terminator.

All done. Feel free to yell at me now.

NB: Star Trek Generations may be shite, but First Contact is a damn good sci-fi movie!

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Man of Steel

Last week, my script tutor said something that I've thought for a long time, and without any prompting from me.

"Superman is the most boring character ever because he's too fucking strong!"

Yep, that about sums it up. Superman never interested me comic book-wise as a kid. He really is too powerful to be a decent character. The clue's in the name - Man of Steel. So anything less than steel is useless. If Superman's going up against a gang of gun-toting maniacs, do we ever worry about him? No, because bullets do jack shit to Mr Clark Kent. And I know what you're saying:

"Ah, but if they have kryptonite, he's in serious trouble!"

Yes, right you are. So the only way to battle Superman is with a piece of green rock? How exciting!

Any bad guy that squares up to Superman has to have a certain amount of power behind him to even stand a chance -

a) He must be fucking strong
b) He must be fucking fast
c) He must fucking fly

This makes every bad guy the same as Superman. So what's the point? I'm never convinced Superman is really in any danger since he can always just fly away at the speed of light. Problem solved.

Yes, I know Supes' biggest foe was Mr Lex Luthor - brains vs brawl and all that. But if he wanted to, Superman could just pop his head like a balloon and it's game over.

So yes, Superman is horrendously boring. Like all little boys, when I saw those movies, I was running round with a home-made cape with one arm out. But I wasn't doing much. Just flying really. Was I fighting bad guys? Nope, cos that got boring since every bad guy I dreamt up was the same. And that wasn't 8-year-old Me's fault. It was Superman's.

Characters are only interesting if they're in real jeopardy. Spiderman isn't that strong. Yes, he can probably lift a car, but if a tank falls on his head, he's in trouble. Whereas Supes just flicks it away. So when Spiderman is in danger, I'm worried. If he gets shot, he dies. The bullet would just bounce off The Man of Fucking Steel. This is a hero in trouble:

Right, rant over. All I'm asking is - please, please, please refrain from making your characters so powerful that nothing can stop them. It makes writing their obstacles so much more straightforward!

Over and out.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Character Introductions (X-Men)

At uni yesterday, I gave a quick presentation on character introductions. So I thought I'd do a quick run-down of what I talked about, and maybe someone will find it useful.

The character intro I looked at is Wolverine/Logan from the first X-Men film, which is, in my opinion, one of the finest character introductions written. We can learn a lot from this short scene. Take a look:

A good character intro should do two things -
1) Define the character - give us a real sense right from the off about who this guy is. What's he about? What does he do?
2) Drop hints/subtleties about his full character which can be developed over the remaining film/show etc. If everything is laid bare early on, there's no reason to keep watching. The audience stay with us to understand and explore those character hints we gave early on.

So in the case of Wolverine in X-Men:

1) Wolverine is half-naked, in a cage, fighting. Perfect! Wolverine is an animal, a weapon, a savage beast. Type "Wolverine" into google images and this is one of the first images you get:

So by introducing Wolverine in such a situation, we know instantly that this guy is a savage animal and that fighting is second nature to him.

2) The hints - this scene is littered with clever subtleties about Logan's character:
  • He has his back to any opponent - he doesn't give a damn about who enters the cage, it makes no difference to him.
  • He takes the beating and bides his time - he doesn't care about any injuries and at no point does he raise his arms in defence. Pain doesn't mean anything to him.
  • When the fight is (very quickly) over, he gets that cheeky little kick in at the end - a very telling aside to his attitude and the way he fights.
  • He has dog tags and wears layers of clothing (four?). Yes, this could be a) to make Hugh Jackman look bigger or b) because it can be bloody freezing in Canada. But it could also symbolise the layers to Wolverine's character. In the cage, he's stripped down, this is who he is. But outside the cage, with all those layers, we are not seeing the real Wolverine.
  • He is, as a rule, against the confrontation in the bar. And, again, he isn't too bothered about who comes up behind him. It takes a brave/stupid man to remain seated when someone that big is behind you.
  • The claws - he's clearly ashamed of or confused by them somewhat, but will fall back on them if he has to.
  • When he completely owns the big guy and the barman, he stops for a moment. At this point, he could waste everyone in sight, just take them apart. But instead, he decides to walk away.
By dropping in all these subtle character traits early on, the audience is completely drawn in to this character. We want to keep watching to find answers to all the above asides.

As a writer, you probably can't do quite that much with your characters. For example, the layers comment was probably something completely disregarded in the script and dealt with in wardrobe.

But what you can do is think long and hard about how you introduce your characters and what impression they're making on the audience.

A few other honourable character intro mentions, check them out:

Blade, Achilles (Troy), Cap'n Jack Sparrow (Pirates), T101 (Terminator), Riggs (Lethal Weapon), The Joker (The Dark Knight), Somerset (Se7en), Henry V (Kenneth Branagh's version).

So what say you? What are your favourite character intros and why? Am I wrong about the importance of introducing a character? Is it not that important? Is it more important? Is the intro of Wolverine the crappest ever? Let me know.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Forcing an idea

My script class at uni has us writing a 60-minute drama/comedy this semester. I grabbed an idea I've had for a while and developed it a little. Task one was to write a 300 word proposal outlining the story. This is so our tutor can see if our idea has any potential - whether it's actually worth a turd.

I had a few problems with mine. I knew it had a lot of potential and could work, but I just wasn't putting that across in the proposal. I should say, though, that there was one fundamental flaw with the entire premise that would have taken quite some time to work out.

Anyway, my tutor (being the blunt, no-bullshit sort of bloke that he is) told me to either make this one good or give him something completely different. Throughout the week, I often had this face:

And contemplated this:

So Saturday night I frantically tried to think of ideas. I went everywhere, from Die Hard rip-offs, to a male-centered version of Juno. But nothing really that great and original.

But in the end, I managed to get something that I actually like a hell of a lot more than my original idea. It's perfect for a 60 minute drama and the story came very easily once I had a grasp on the theme and central character conflicts. Actually, the hardest thing about writing the proposal was thinking of a name. Seriously! I actually called it "United" as a working title. Ouch! That's not at all vague and corny(!)

I'm writing this as a quick break from the two-page outline I'm writing, which is also working well. This is, of course, before my tutor reads the outline, laughs in desperation, and tells me it's a pile of fei-oo.

Anyway, my point is that I was forced to come up with this very quickly. I didn't want to do it (at that point I was dead set on the awesomeness of idea #1), but now I think it could be some of my best stuff.

How about everyone else? Ever had an idea come so quickly and easily when you've been forced to do it? Ever had more trouble finding a title than anything else?

Btw, the title now (which might still change) is "Hellfire and Brimstone". A far more eerie title, don't ya think?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Updates and whatnot

Since I'm far to busy at the moment to entertain y'all with an in-depth blog post about post-modernist character development (cos I know you love that shit!), here are a few updates and general musings.

For my script class at uni, we were going over proposals (300-word pitch-type documents for a script). Most had major flaws, mainly in the way they were written, but almost everyone had enough to make into a decent story.

Our script tutor is an interesting fellow, a no-nonsense, tell-it-to-you-straight sort of chap. Which I love! It's exactly what you need in this sort of work. There really isn't time for fancy explanations and pussy-footing around. When he tells me something is "bullshit", I know exactly what he means. I'm not sure everyone on the course gets this sort of criticism, but for me, it's invaluable.

I'm giving a presentation in a couple weeks, reading some of my own work and then showing some other work I admire and discussing the connections, influences etc. I'll be nervous, but it should be quite fun. For those interested, I'll be talking about Dexter and reading a short script I wrote (entered into the BSSC).

We have to give another presentation for this module that's a little more serious. As long as it's "contemporary", anything's game. Yep, I know - what's contemporary?! I don't know either - last 10 years, set in the last 10 years? Who knows?

I'm playing to my strengths with this one, no pissing about - Joss Whedon. Simple as that. Providing I can convince my tutors that Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which began in 1997) is contemporary, we're good to go. We all know I love Joss Whedon like a god, so it was only a matter of time he got me a decent mark for something - he really needs to start pulling his weight!

Feminism in the works of Joss Whedon - piece of piss writing 3500 words on that! Providing I can work out how to reference DVD boxsets and youtube........

Got lots of nice prezzies from my friends when I went out last week - books (these people know me very well!) and a notepad for those script ideas (like I said, very well!). Problem is, as the note in the notepad says, anything that goes in it technically belongs to the buyer, so any profits from said ideas go to the lady who bought it for me. I think I've haggled her down to 75% now. Either way, time to get me a lawyer!

That's about all that's going on in my life at the moment. So, what's new with you?

My goodness, it's Eddie Vedder with a guitar! What are the odds?