Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Analysis of a movie

I saw "Snow Falling on Cedars." Loved it. My friends commented on the fact that they'd like to see the screenplay for the movie as we were watching it, because it's so different. I would agree, but mostly because I am interested in how much was written in and how much was just an interesting editing choice.

So many things make this movie interesting. For example, the protagonist has only one arm through the entire movie, and thought this is clearly visible upon a rewatching, they somehow draw the viewer's attention away from it until a particular point in the movie when it is "revealed." The character's dialog reveals subtle racism, which becomes more apparent over time and is eventually torn apart by a very moving monologue from Max Von Sydow's octogenarian character:

"I feel like a traveler descended from Mars, astonished at what passes here. What I see is the same human frailty passed from generation to generation. We hate one another. We are the victims of irrational fears. You may think this is a small trial. In a small place. Well, it isn't. Every once in a while, somewhere in the world, humanity goes on trial. And integrity. And decency. Every once in awhile, common folks get called on to give the report card for the human race."

Von Sydow's character doesn't only speak in long diatribes, but also frequently offers up succinct aphorisms: "Accident rules every corner of the Universe. Except, perhaps, for the chambers of the human heart." Brilliant.

The film messes with time, being set against the backdrop of a murder trial, but continually flashing back and forward to moments that a relevant to the facts of the case and the relationships of the people involved. Even as we're hearing testimony, we are seeing flashes of scenes from time periods all over the plot. It's challenging, at first, to try to figure out when and where we are at different points in the movie.

The movie is breathtaking in its scope of theme. It touches upon so many major important themes to humanity. Love and betrayal, grief, pain, loss, life and death, war and peace, hatred and racism and prejudice, justice and mercy, forgiveness, murder, deceit, marriage, sex, money, fear, happiness, regret, parenthood, etc. It is set on land and sea, in snow and rain and sunshine and dark of night. I can't imagine even attempting to write a story or script that included all of those elements.

There are many explicit and implicit messages laced beautifully throughout the movie. The characters' speech never begins to feel expository or forced. The other interesting thing about the dialog in this movie is that it often takes a back seat to the music or other sounds. Often a characters lines will fade in and out, or the beginnings of what they say will echo over the rest of the sentence for impact. This is another place where I wonder how much was written, and how much was merely edited that way. Some of the echos come half an hour before we are shown the actual context for them, as are may visuals in the movie.

In the end, Ishmael's forgiveness of the betrayal inflicted upon him by Hatzue is a metaphor for the healing of America's relations with Japan, and Hatzue's eventual acceptance of Ishmael becomes a symbol for Japanese patriots who were forced to live in internment camps and their forgiveness of a nation would place them there.

Analysis of a play

I saw Wicked. I know that the cool thing to do in the theater department is to rag on it for its pageantry, but I loved it.

The show is precariously balanced around the plot of the Wizard of Oz. It cleverly balances the differences between the book and the movie, so that it could be a sequel to either one. For example, the slippers that are described as "silver" in the Wizard of Oz the book and "ruby" in the movie version are described as silver and jeweled here, and mention is made of the fact that they change colors in the light.

The lyrics to the song are fun and clever, e.g. "And with an assist from me to be who you'll be, instead of dreary who you were... are... There's nothing that'll stop you from becoming pop-u-ler.... lar!" That cracks me up.

Aside from the music, the script is cheeky and filled with wordplay. We get such accidental neologisms as "scandalacious" (a combination of "scandalous" and "salacious"), and "hideodious" ("hideous" and "odious")peppered throughout the show. It's also amazing to see how the play takes a very familiar story and turns it on its head; the Wizard, Tin Man, and Lion are conspiring in a plot to kill the witch, the Wicked Witch of the East's death is a political assassination, et cetera. Especially during the second act, all of the pieces start to come together to set up the story we all already know.

Aside from the cleverness, however, there is still a great deal of relatability. I loved the contrast of the choices made by the two witches, Glinda and Elphaba. One chooses to stay within the system she knows is corrupt, in order to have greater influence in changing it. The other is too bound by principle to be able to remain inside, and must fight from the outside, eventually becoming a martyr. Anyone who has any political leanings at all or who has fought against something bigger than himself whould be able to see parallels to his own life here. Those who feel like outcasts (and in today's society, who doesn't?) will see themselves in poor green Elphaba's shoes. And the main theme of the story makes us reconsider what we think of as wicked, ugly, and wrong. I found the musical to be an ingenious vehicle for important moral questions. The fact that it comes wrapped in shiny over-the-top musical numbers and visual effects should not detract from the incredible writing of the show.


My buddy Glade and I just finished making the movie version of the BFG for Jonny, the boy Glade tutors in math. Jonny is fourteen and has Down Syndrome. Glade and Jonny went over the script, which ended up being pretty prosaic, and then it was up to me and Glade to film it. The obvious challenge was making Glade look like a giant while making Jonny look like a little girl. Fortunately for everyone, I've seen ALL of the extra features on the Lord of the Rings DVDs, so I knew a thing or two about miniatures and forced perspective. I'm really pleased with the way it came out, and I've even had friends request to re-watch it, so I'm starting to think that maybe I have a knack for this film thing. :)

Suicide Show

I don't want to give away any details on here, because I think he might actually literally kill me, but Josh French and I have been working on his script for a TV show that's a black comedy. I think his idea is inspired, and I've been having my own flashes of inspiration for it a well. I thought I'd just share the concept of one part that I wrote, and I'll delete it after a few days so no one can steal it.

Picture a widow, in her 50s or 60s. Hoity toity. Has a bunch of upper crusty friends. She's a devotee of a certain psychic, who we believe to be actually a conman who's been using her thirty years. Twenty years ago, he predicted her death would be on a certain day that's coming up. She has recently reached the end of her funds, having supported the parasite for all this time, and on top of that, she's begun to doubt his abilities at all. But she's far too vain to let anyone know that the man on whom she's doted and lavished all this time is actually a leech, and, not having anything to live for, she's decided to hire our protagonists to make it look like a suicide on the ordained day, so as not to look like her life has been in vain.

On the appointed day, our heroes make several attempts to kill the lady and make it look like an accident, but something goes awry at each attempt. Just when it looks completely hopeless (and after they've spent the last of her money), she dies right before the stroke of midnight in a freak accident anyway! Our heroes are mystified!

And THEN we learn (though our protagonists don't) that the psychic himself had killed the old woman, and left with all her cash.

Pretty good?

I have a couple more of these, but to share them publicly would probably give away too much of what Josh has come up with, and I think it's great. Anyway, I really believe in this project, and am excited to see it go somewhere.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Monkey Pit.

That title has nothing to do with the post.

So, two weeks ago, I decided to sleep in the laundry room of an apartment building where I used to live. I had a really good reason; It was four in the morning, I had to be up at 8, and I had to have all my laundry done. I don't have a car, so I decided to just chill in the laundry room while the clothes were getting cleaned, and have my ride pick me up down there. The laundry room in question doubles as a storage room for any extra furniture, so I figured I'd have a couch to sleep on at the very least.

I carried my laundry basket the three blocks, along with a pillow and a blanket. I scoped out my sleeping arrangements as I was separating the laundry into the various machines. There was no longer a couch, but there were two mattresses leaning against the wall. Perfect. I flipped the larger, outer one over, and lay down on it and promptly fell asleep.

I awoke a little while later with a distinct feeling that someone else was in the room with me. That freaked me out a bit. I opened my eyes. It was nearly pitch black, and I was facing the wall in the space just above the other mattress that was still leaning against it. Without moving, I said, "hello?"

There's this moment in "Signs" that scares me to pieces. Mel Gibson's character is looking out his window at the barn. It's pretty dark out there, and the viewer can't be entirely sure of what he's seeing, and then suddenly something in the blackness moves, and you realize there was an alien standing there in plain sight all along. When I saw that movie, I screamed hysterically.

Almost as hysterically as I screamed in that laundry room when a dark patch mere inches from my face raised up to eye level and responded in a meek voice: "hi."

When I was done screaming, and after I shouted "What the HELL!" I gathered myself to ask, "who are you?"

"I'm Darwin."

"Darwin? Do you live in here?"

"I don't live in here. I just survive in here, I guess."

He had been asleep in the space between the mattresses and the wall when I had first come in, I now realized. The mattresses had been his little lean-to shelter.

I was still breathing heavily, my heart rate at LEAST 180. "Oh, man, you scared me to death!"

"Sorry," came his feeble reply. Try as I might, I couldn't make out any feature of his face besides its silhouette. "I thought you knew I was in here when you laid down."

"No, I did NOT know you were there," I assured him.

"Well, don't tell anyone I was here, okay? They already caught me once, and they said if they catch me again I'm going to jail.

"Ok," I lied, already thinking about how I would blog about this, and maybe eventually turn it into a short film.

I got up, switched my clothes over to the dryers, and went back to sleep next to Darwin, who, despite having frightened me so badly, did not actually seem all that scary.

In the morning, I tried to get a picture of him, but it was still too dark in there. I called my friend Heather, who works at the Food and Care Coalition, and she told me that Darwin was not at all scary, and that he was one of the cleaner homelesses they got, so there was probably little concern of my having gotten fleas or lice from sleeping with him.

Larp I

For your reference, here is the movie we made before. It's written by me and my buddy Evan Mabry. It's basically no-budget, which is why I latched onto the idea in the first place, because it can be made for so cheap, and the cheaper the funnier, in this case. Enjoy!

Depending on your internet connection, you might need to wait for it to load a bit. You can also try them at their youtube locations here, here, and here.


I can't do it. I don't know what my problem is, but I cannot write a dramatic piece. I think it has to do with the fact that I find humor in everything I do in real life. I'm starting to wonder whether there's some human emotion that experiences the very serious side of life that is missing or broken in my brain. Even in the most boring sacrament meeting, the most frighteningly dangerous situation, or the saddest circumstances, my brain is constantly writing my life as a humorous memoir to be shared with others later and make them laugh.

By the time I sit down at the computer to record the event, it;s just a matter of getting the thing out of my brain and onto paper, fully formed. I don't write in drafts, generally. The earlier drafts are revised long before I ever let any of it out of my head.

Anyway, this deficiency of drama has me wondering what it is that makes something a drama. I'm a smart guy, and feel that I should be able to figure this out.

Drama does NOT mean the absence of humor, because there are some hilarious moments in even the grisliest of Shakespeare's tragedies. Drama isn't ensured just by killing everyone off, because you have movies like "Mars Attacks."

What's interesting is that dramas are my favorites. I don't even watch comedies, generally. While everyone raves about The Office, I'm watching 24 and LOST.

Maybe 24 can help me. It seems that the stakes are always very high. Drama seems to be about betrayal and death and war. Comedies are about misunderstanding and love and injury. Maybe I can write a drama if I just crank everything up a couple of notches. I'll work on this.

Health Class

Sometimes life itself is the fodder for a good script. My Health class the other day played out like a scene from Mean Girls. I grabbed a pencil and started writing things down as son as I realized the comedic goldmine that that class is during our group presentations the other day. The assignment was to do a two-minute presentation on any health subject we wanted. Here are the highlights:

Slutty-looking girl with smoker voice and nose ring:

I decided to do my paper on binge drinking. Ok, I like to party on weekends, but when you do, you have to be sure it's not like your first time. You gotta build up kind of a tolerance to alcohol. I partied with this girl a couple of weeks ago, and it was her first time, but she was drinkin that shit just like everybody else, and now she's in a coma. I also have this other friend, and I was partying with HIM, and he didn't realize he was mixing everything with like, painkillers, and he was in a coma for two weeks and when he woke up he had no memory from the last three months and so he failed all his classes.

Chipper blond girl with stereotypical sunny personality:

The health benefits of dark chocolate: I am doing my report on the health benefits of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has many unknown health benefits. Some of the health benefits of dark chocolate are listed below....

ULTRA skinny girl:

Eating disorders can ruin or even end your life. I read online about a girl who was eating baking soda to help herself vomit, and then she went and had a salad with a vinaigrette dressing on it, and she exploded and died.

Boy with backward baseball cap:

I'm doing my report on crystal meth. I brought some treats I'm going to pass around for everyone. If you do crystal meth, take a dum-dum pop, and if you don't do crystal meth, take a smarties.

And my favorite:

Dumpy, fat girl, in tears:

The thing I'm going to talk about today is very private and personal to me. In the summer of 2007, I was diagnosed with genital herpes. When you first contract genital herpes, you just look down there, and you see all these little red bumps. But after a few weeks, they turn into big, red, painful blisters. And they hurt. A lot. It feels like, if you accidentally zip your vagina in your zipper. Only like a hundred times worse. I was a prime candidate for getting genital herpes, because it's a lot easier for a woman to get it from a man, and also because my boyfriend is black.

Anyway, friends. Apparently, I'm the only one in that class not mature enough to not laugh at this stuff. Oh well. Someday it'll be a scene on some TV show and all of America will be laughing, thinking I made this up. Which I did not.


So, My roommates and I made a movie about two years ago, about LARPing (Live Action Role Playing). It's a real thing, and we decided to make a Christopher Guestian Mockumentary about it. And we've had plenty of calls for more LARP, so for my final project, I decided to write the sequel. I wanted it to be a lot like the Back to the Future sequels, where certain lines and situations are repeated, but with a slight twist. As with before, the theme is about these people losing the distinction between the real world and the fantasy one. I think the final production will end up being a little longer than the twenty pages allotted in class, but it'll do for now. Here, then, are the first two pages of the new script. I have written the whole thing, but I don't want spoilers leaking....

Int. stairs - Day

BENNY ANDERSON is sitting on the stairs, looking at the camera. He’s in his 20s or 30s, and wearing a plaid bathrobe over a T-shirt. On his head he has a mop like a wig, and a beanie over that. He’s holding a lantern and a wooden wand.
During shots where characters speak directly to the camera, we should be zoomed in to different lengths between each sentence, and then strung together during editing.
Okay. So, we set out to make a movie to show people how awesome LARPING is—again, that’s Live Action Role Playing. Trying to make ourselves more relatable. But, unfortunately, our camera man, Robert, did a really piss poor job of editing, and we all ended up looking like morons.

So now we’re making a second film. I think you’ll see by the end of this film that we’re not just nerds running around in the woods. We’re normal people, just like you and me, who love to, well, yes, we love to run around in the woods. But we do it with swords! And spells, and it’s awesome! But not awesome in an unapproachable way. More in a way like, these guys are awesome just like ME, Or how I WANT me to be. Maybe I should join them. So come with me, and behold for yourself—

RUTHERFORD MIGNON calls out from off screen left, and Benny turns at the sound of his voice.
Rutherford (OS)
Benny! Are you busy?
I’m kinda making our movie.
Rutherford (OS)
Oh. Well when you’re done, can you take me to Long’s to buy some diapers? I got blood all over this one in our last battle. Oh, like you’re filming right NOW?

(aware of the camera)
Diapers, yes. For the baby that we’re… babysitting. Yeah, man, I can….
(to Robert)
Ok, just don’t put this part in the movie, please?
Robert (OC)
Okay. So let’s do this again. Go back to where—
Robert (OC)
Go back to where you’re talking about how awesome you are.
Yeah, perfect. Just tell me when to go.
Title: Lords a-Larping II: The Battle of Discord