Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Opportunity of a Lifetime

So as some of you know, a big part of my thesis was a stem-off from a realization I had while doing my poster series. I talked about this in one of my first blog posts here.

What I never expected was that that series would come full circle and allow me to work on a project that I've been watching VERY closely; one that appears to follow my thesis to the T. A film that gets me giddy as a schoolgirl just thinking about it.

I'm talking about Super 8.

I've done probably three or four posts on Living in Cine alone on J.J. Abrams and Super 8 and sort of how it all ties in together with my work. So what happened exactly?

A couple weeks ago, I received a text from my friend saying "Make sure you answer your phone when I call you." I happened to be at a barbecue and when my phone started ringing, I politely excused myself from the table.

"Dan, I just talked to my buddy who works at Bad Robot. He remembered your poster series and... They want you to try a crack at a poster design for Super 8!"

Silence. A wave of excitement, energy, and just sheer terror flushed over me.

He continued to tell me that I may be getting a call from either his buddy or J.J.'s producer, Bryan Burk in the next few minutes, so to be available. I waited for about a half hour, a huge knot tightened up in my stomach and I began to worry.

Those of you who have ever been to Chicago know that AT&T's service here is pretty consistently terrible throughout the city. It's especially bad in my area.
Thoughts raced through my head as I waited for the call. "Had they already tried calling but my horrible service didn't connect the call?" "Had they changed their mind?" "Is this really just an elaborate trick?" "What am I going to say if he does call?" "Is it too windy out here? What if he can't hear me?!" "Does my breath smell bad? What if he smells it through the phone? SHIT!"

At this point the rest of the people at the barbecue knew what was up and they were all giving me distance so I wouldn't have a panic attack or something.

The phone rings, and it's got an Indiana area code on it. A bit of calmness sweeps over me. "Good, it's not Bryan Burk himself," I thought.

I answered it and although my reception was bad and I was struggling to decode what he was telling me like it was a World War II cypher, I got the jist of the details.

"So you think you can do this?" He asked.

"I'm going to get started on this immediately."

I excused myself and ran home. They wanted three unique ideas by 10am the next morning. It was already 9:30pm, so I got a pot of coffee going and got right to work.

I've done tons of freelance work before, and pretty much every job I've ever had has required me to work under pressure with some sort of time crunch, but this was different. This was a potential freelance job from a company I could only DREAM of working with. Literally the epitome of where I'd like to end up.

A lot of design is research. I spent a good hour and a half gathering reference material and familiarized myself with the story. Paramount and Bad Robot both kept this project under tight control, and I was no exception, so I literally had just the images from trailers and promotion released to the public to work from. I gathered the story and really tried to come up with a really iconic poster. Initially I wanted to do a sort of Shepard Fairey/propaganda style, because that is what they initially gravitated towards in my series.

My fiance Veronica, got home just as I was finishing up the basic title and credit block elements. She knew what was going on and was SO excited for me and offered to help in any way she could, because she herself is an INCREDIBLE illustration artist. By about 2am, I had hit a dead end in the design I was working on and sort of felt the style I was aiming for wasn't really right for the tone of the movie. I realized it probably wasn't going to work and stopped myself before I wasted the rest of the night.

I woke her up out of a sound sleep.

"Veronica... I think I need your help."

She got right up and we began collaborating (this is our first project do so). I had an idea for the poster, but knew she could execute it WAY better than I could. We decided to do a Struzan/ Amblin style of Joel from a few images we had found, and depending on how quickly she could draft images out, we would do the other kids' faces.

Now I need to stop right here and say, although Veronica wasn't totally unfamiliar with a Wacom before, and owned one herself, she had never really had the opportunity to do anything with it. So we got her set up, and after some basic practice strokes with the pen, she started getting the hang of it.

She did an outline drawing and used that as her color reference. After a short while, and about a pot of coffee later, she rolled out with the first draft of Joel.

I knew how I wanted to lay it out and quickly tossed it on my machine and started rearranging and placing things like a mad man. At this point, the sun was rising and I kept looking at my clock. We didn't even have one design completely done. What if they hate it??

I really started to feel the crunch as I made some final touches to the design and tweaked textures and colors to something I was happy with. Around 8am, I got a text saying "How's it going?" I gave him an update and shot off what I had been working on.

At this point, I had been up for about 26 hours and could hardly concentrate.

He quickly replied to my e-mail with just "Fuck you, that's awesome! Make it dirty and beat to shit, and add a flare of some kind on it and call that one done."

So I whipped that out really quick and sent it out. He wanted us to get at least one more design together to show Bryan Burk, who was eagerly waiting to see what we would come up with.

"So we've got the one that is this romantic Amblin style, now let's do one that is sort of a more minimalist Bad Robot style. Make it as simple as possible. Do something with the train wreck."

I spent the next hour in illustrator trying to draft up something that would echo what he was looking for. It was a SUPER low draft, and more of a conceptual thumbnail more than anything. I wasn't nearly as happy with it as I was with Joel's poster, but I sent it off anyway.

I took a quick two hour nap and woke up to a message saying "Paramount saw it and liked it. I still need to hear from Burky."

Several hours later, unable to sleep and totally wired on coffee and adrenaline, I heard back again saying Bryan had an idea and wanted us to try it with Elle and the train wreck. They got us tiff files from the film as reference and we got to work.

We worked until about 2am and finally forced ourselves to go to sleep. We both had our basic elements started and could sleep peacefully knowing what we had to do in the morning.

Sunday morning rolls around, and not only do I have to roll out with another poster by 10am, but I also have to leave at that same time for rehearsals for Your Milkman. So we wake up in sort of a panic, I blow through a rough pass on my script and get my notes together for the rehearsal while Veronica picks up right where she left off with the illustration, and the clock starts ticking.

I end up having to push back rehearsals an hour just to finish the poster and get it out for Burk to see. We send this out and I head to my meeting.

When I arrive at the office, I get a text saying that Burk is going to call me. I'm freaking out a bit, but wait for the call.

I answer and Bryan asks how I am doing. "Fantastic," I reply. He starts off by saying how much he loves what we're doing and has an idea to tweak the train poster.

"That train needs to be inches away from her. Imminent danger." he says.

He gives me a few more ideas for his concept, and I express a few concerns for making it too close because of crowding the comp and making it look less like a train and more abstract.

"Do what you can to make it look like a train and we'll go from there. Also, where in town are you located?"

"I... I'm actually not in LA, I'm based out of Chicago."

"Darn, I was going to invite you out to the screening we're hosting right now."

Drat. (Does anyone say that anymore? They should.) From the brief conversation I had with him, Bryan seems like an incredibly enthusiastic and genuine guy.

I take my notes home with me, and by this time it's around 7pm. Veronica and I start hammering out the perspective. I render out a quick 3D box as reference for depth in Illustrator. She gets started on the box car.

Around midnight we send out another comp just to see progress and make sure we're going in the right direction.

I'm pretty damn tired, and can barely focus. I go splash my face with some water and see that a blood vessel has burst in my eye. I look like hell, but I'm thinking "This is the best opportunity you've ever been given, just keep pushing." And we did.

"Love it, keep it up" they reply.

Veronica illustrates up a Railroad Crossing sign while I begin working on sparks, smoke and debris details. The sun's beginning to rise as she finishes up the highlight strokes from the sparks on everything. We each have to be out the door at our respective 9-5's in four hours. I already know I'm going to be coming in late.

Once all of her elements are done, I force her to go to sleep while I do my magic.

After an hour of tweaking, I start to save my project. At this point, it's a 27x40" poster at 300 dpi and it's got about 120 layers on it. These things take time to save. I end up passing out waiting on the save and waking up an hour later in a complete panic. BACK TO WORK!

At about 10am, I end up rendering out the file and shooting it out to them.

I head into work, anxious all day as to what they're going to say. The deadline to make a decision on using one of our prints is quickly approaching. If they want more changes, am I going to have to leave work and stay up another night?

I get a few intermittent texts throughout the day that EVERYONE at Bad Robot loved the designs. The positive feedback helped, but I was still anxious.

On my way home, I was told that Bryan wanted to try one more placement of the train, but wanted to talk to Paramount about a drop dead timeline for when these had to be in for printing. I started working when I got home and figured out a quicker way to get the new comp turned around that evening. I was laying it out for Veronica to begin illustrating when I got a text saying that J.J. finally saw them and loved them, but they went with a simpler design to give away as a freebie.

To most of you reading this, you might feel a sense of disappointment that we weren't chosen, but aside from the lack of sleep, this past weekend was one of the most exciting opportunities I've ever had. The fact that I got to collaborate and foster a relationship with a few huge people, and that one of the pinnacles of my thesis, and a filmmaker I greatly respect, saw something I worked and liked it made it ALL worth it.

If anything, this will just open doors for Veronica and me. As an artist, pushing your bounds is something that's TERRIFYING to most, but has helped take my artwork into a new direction. And most of all, my fiance and I both learned that we can work incredibly well together on collaborations under the extreme conditions of a harsh deadline. I can't wait for another opportunity to come up for the two of us to work together on another poster. Her talent is simply incredible and I am just floored by what she does.

As a treat for ourselves for the 60+ hours we put into the designs, she and I have fixed up the drafts of our two main posters. Bad Robot has given us permission to share the final posters with you as a Living in Cine exclusive.

To view a larger version, click here and here.

Lastly to round out this spectacular experience, I received a picture text from Veronica while I was at work last week saying we had received a package from Bad Robot. What was inside?!

When I finally got home, I opened it up and found a bunch of copies of the original concept posters we did of both Elle and Joel, a Super 8 camera keychain they've been giving out as swag, and a thank you note from Bryan Burk. Truly awesome!

I have seriously been in amazement the past few weeks about the entire experience, and I feel like this project has just inspired me to work even harder on this thesis, on my design work and on my films, and keep striving to make my way up this creative ladder. I'm usually not one to share stuff like this, but this has been such a fun experience for Veronica and I. I feel like it would be selfish of me not to share it with you, especially to those of you who are interested in pursuing a career in illustration. There is no tried and true path to doing something like this, but what worked for us this time around was just knowing the right people and putting yourself out there and allowing yourself to be discovered rather than forcing your work upon others.

For those of you interested, Veronica also has a blog of her fantastic work:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Your Milkman Production Diaries Launches!

I've gotten a few e-mails from people asking why I haven't really been posting about Your Milkman. It's not that we've stopped production, in fact it's quite the opposite. Production is still going strong. The reason I've been quieter about it all is because Kessler U has picked up our programming for the Your Milkman Production Diaries.

Basically, we've been documenting the entire process of production and every week, we're rolling out with a new episode that takes us all the way through production.

I'm proud to announce the first episode launched yesterday. I know it's rough, but remember, this is truly behind the scenes of our process. It's down and dirty and in some cases, we're hiding the camera from location owners to get a peak of the whole process. This is a learning tool and I would have killed for a resource like this when I was getting into the craft.

So without further adieu:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Editing Theory: Balancing The Method With Emotion

Since about the turn of the year I've been on a reading spree, knocking out a book every week or two. I wish I had this much motivation in college, it's definitely helping me hone the craft more and figure out what kind of stories I want to tell.

When Stephen Goldblatt, ASC was in town for our taping of FilmFellas last year, he told me that if there were any books that any aspiring filmmaker should read, Walter Murch's In The Blink of An Eye, Karel Reisz' Techniques on Film Editing, and Sidney Lumet's Making Movies would be at the top of his list. I read Making Movies and finally decided to pick up In The Blink of An Eye.

Not only is it an incredibly fast read, it's packed with philosophies on editing and storytelling that I'd never heard before. And I suppose in my current state, editing is my primary mainstay. So understanding that side of the craft better will certainly help me.

What I found though, was that I was already practicing most of these techniques without realizing it. Murch proposes a hierarchy of six rules to cut by. These are:
1) Emotion
2) Story
3) Rhythm
4) Eye-trace
5) Two-dimensional plane of Screen
6) Three-dimensional space of action

This is a great framework to start with for new editors. Along with that hierarchy, he discusses rhythm.

Murch would verify his rhythm by watching his cut over and over again and stop it where he felt the cut should happen. If it matched his initial mark for the cut, he would leave it. If it was off by a frame or two, he would rework the cut until it felt right and invisible. It was refreshing to read that strategy is used by someone so prestigious, because that's how I judge my cuts as well. I'll basically give every cut two or three watches and make sure it feels right. If the performance, story and action all line up, it's a perfect cut and there's no better feeling in editing than that. This brought me to another point that I wish was covered more in the book; intuition and relying on emotion.

A big part of editing is not only drawing out emotion from an edit, but GIVING it your emotion WHILE you're editing. Although I don't necessarily know all of the formalities of editing, I rely a LOT on what FEELS right. I have learned to listen to my intuition on what feels right for the pacing of a particular project. I've learned this simply by doing, and was refreshed to hear Murch allude to it when he talked about the emotion behind "putting your body into the edit".

One of the biggest challenges for analog flatbed editors to go digital is that they're going from a process that requires motion from your whole body to put a film together; a graceful dance that requires measuring strips of 35mm celluloid with armlengths, physically grabbing a strip of the work print from a drawer, bringing it over to the table, and adhering it to the previous piece of celluloid, to a very mechanical and rigid process that requires very little physical motion. You're sitting, facing a screen and the only thing that moves are your hands to select key commands and scoot the mouse around.

Murch was no different in his difficulties adjusting, and when Murch went digital, he HAD to ween himself into it by forcing himself to stand while editing. He raised the monitors and keyboard up so it would give him at least the same stance as a flatbed. That's something I can definitely appreciate. Having precise kinetic memory of feeling out film timing simply by handling strips of film and deciding the cutting point just by looking at it requires skill. It's that kind of organic motion that really is putting your heart and soul into every cut.

Another gem from the book are Murch's thoughts on why editing works (which he explains mimics the blinking of an eye), and a proposed theory of his, in a chapter titled "A Galaxy of Winking Dots". He proposes a research experiment that monitors blinking patterns of an audience watching a film by using the infrared signal from nightvision of a camera which would render a galaxy of glowing eyes in a sea of darkness. He hypothesizes that if an audience's blinks are intermittent and out of sync, that people aren't truly fixated on the film. If they ARE blinking in a pattern, it means they are fully engaged with a film and that everyone is on a similar wavelength of brain activity.

I did some research of my own afterwards to see if Murch's study had been performed. Not finding much on my own, I contacted Tim Smith who, if you remember from a previous blog post, was one of the masterminds behind the DIEM project that performed the There Will Be Blood study with David Bordwell. He was very familiar with Murch's theory and referenced me to several studies that he and his colleagues had performed. One of which attempted to create Murch's experiment. They found that there was no notable pattern in blinking (with only a success rate of 1.2%). With that said, Smith clarified with this:

However, Murch may be on to something as subsequent studies have found a relationship between blinks and event boundaries: the perceived end of one human action and the beginning of another. Such boundaries often occur at the end of scenes or during changes in action within a scene.

I found that very interesting and would like to take the time to thank Tim Smith for sharing such fascinating research. If you're interested in reading the original studies, I'll provide the citations and links he gave me at the bottom of this article.

I've by no means mastered editing, but in cutting hours upon hours of material for narrative, documentary and marketing/commercial work, I've definitely learned a few things. Walter Murch draws out beautifully in his book the joys and disciplines of the craft from his personal experiences and serves as a great pillar of reference for those interested in the craft.

If you're interested in the links provided by Tim Smith, here they are:

Smith, T.J. and Henderson, J.M. (2008). Edit Blindness: The relationship between attention and global change blindness in dynamic scenes. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 2(2):6, 1-17.

Nakano, T., Yamamoto, Y., Kitajo, K., Takahasi, T. & Kitazawa, S. (2009) Synchronization of spontaneous eyeblinks while viewing video stories, Proc. Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276 (1673), pg 3635-3644

Nakano, T. & Kitazawa, S. (2010) Eyeblink entrainment at breakpoints of speech.
Exp Brain Res. 2010 Sep;205(4):577-81

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chuck Wendig's Law of Story

As filmmakers, it's important to occasionally remind yourselves of the basics of the craft. I came across this article today on Facebook, thanks to Cinefile's Nelson Carvajal, that did just that.

25 Things You Should Know About Storytelling

1. Stories Have Power

Outside the air we breathe and the blood in our bodies, the one thing that connects us modern humans today with the shamans and emperors and serfs and alien astronauts of our past is a heritage — a lineage — of stories. Stories move the world at the same time they explain our place in it. They help us understand ourselves and those near to us. Never treat a story as a shallow, wan little thing. A good story is as powerful as the bullet fired from an assassin’s gun.

2. Effect Above Entertainment

We love to be entertained. Bread and circuses! Clowns and monkeys! Decapitations and ice cream! A good story entertains but a great story knows that it has in its arsenal the ability to do so much more. The best stories make us feel something. They fuck with our emotions. They make us give a flying fuck about characters and places and concepts that don’t exist and won’t ever exist. The way a story stabs us with sadness, harangues us with happiness, runs us through the gauntlet of rage and jealousy and denial and underoo-shellacking lust and fear (together, lust and fear may stir a “scaredy-boner”) is parallel to none. Anybody can entertain. A juggler entertains. A storyteller makes us feel something. Makes us give a shit when we have no good reason to do so. Fun is not the last stop on the story train. The storyteller is master manipulator. The storyteller is cackling puppetmaster.

3. A Good Story Is A Good Story Regardless Of Genre Or Form

Segmentation. Checking off little boxes. Putting stories in the appropriate story slots and narrative cubby-holes. Is it a sci-fi TV show? A fantasy novel? A superhero comic? A video game about duck hunting? An ARG about the unicorn sex trade? We like to think that the walls we throw up matter. But they’re practically insubstantial, and once you get them in your mouth they’re like cotton candy, melting away to a meaningless slurry. Good story is good story. Those who cleave to genre and form — whether as teller or as audience — limit the truth and joy the tale can present. Cast wide and find great stories everywhere.

4. That’s Not To Say Form Doesn’t Matter

Story is also not a square peg jammed in a circle hole. Every tale has an organic fit. The medium matters in that it lets you operate within known walls and described boundaries.

5. Stories Have Shape, Even When They Don’t Mean To

You put your hand in a whirling clod of wet clay, you’re shaping it. Even when you don’t mean to. Sometimes you find a shape the way a blind man studies a face. Other times you know the shape at the outset and move your hands to mold the tale you choose to tell. Neither way is better than the other. But the story never doesn’t have a shape. A story always has structure, even when you resist such taxonomy.

6. The Story Is A Map; Plot Is The Route You Choose

A story is so much more than the thing you think it is. I lay down a map, that map has a host of possibilities. Sights unseen. Unexpected turns. The plot is just the course I… well, plot upon that map. It’s a sequence. Of events. Of turns. Of landmarks. The story goes beyond mere sequence. The story is about what I’ll experience. About who I’ll meet. The story is the world, the characters, the feel, the time, the context. Trouble lies in conflating plot with story. (Even though I’ve done it here already. See how easy it is to do?)

7. On The Subject Of Originality

The storyteller will find no original plots. But original stories are limitless. It’s like LEGO blocks. Go buy a box of LEGO bricks and you’ll discover that you have no unique pieces — by which I mean, these are the same pieces that everybody gets. But how you arrange them is where it gets interesting. That’s where it’s all fingerprints and snowflakes and unicorn scat. Plot is just a building block. Story is that which you build.

8. The Bridge Between Author And Audience

The audience wants to feel connected to the story. They want to see themselves inside it. Whether as mirror image or as doppelganger (or as sinister mustachio’ed Bizarroworld villain!). The story draws a line between the storyteller and the audience — you’re letting them see into you and they’re unknowingly finding you inside them. Uhh, not sexually, of course. You little dirty birdies, you.

9. But Also, Fuck The Audience Right In Its Ear

The audience isn’t stupid. It just doesn’t know want it wants. Oh, it thinks it knows. The desires of the audience are ever at war with the story’s needs, and the story’s needs are, in a curious conundrum, the audience’s needs. You read that right: this means it’s the audience versus the audience, with the storyteller as grim-faced officiant. In this struggle, fiction is born. The conflict of audience versus writer and audience versus itself is the most fundamental conflict of them all. The audience wants the protagonist to be happy, to be well. They want things to work out. They want conflict to resolve. The story cannot have these things and still be a good story. Good story thrives on protagonists in pain. On things failing to go the way everyone hopes. On what is born from conflict and struggle, not merely from the resolution. The audience wants a safety blanket. It’s the storyteller’s job to take that safety blanket and choke them with it until they experience a profound narrative orgasm. … did I just compare storytelling to erotic asphyxiation? I did, didn’t I? Eeesh. Let’s just pretend I said something else and move on.

10. No Tale Survives A Vacuum Of Conflict

Conflict is the food that feeds the reader. It’s a spicy hell-broth that nourishes. A story without conflict is a story without story. As the saying goes, there’s no ‘there’ there. The storyteller has truly profound powers, though: he can create conflict in the audience by making them feel a battle of emotions, by driving them forward with mystery, by angering them. The storyteller operates best when he’s a little bit of a dick.

11. The Battle Between Tension and Release

Tension is how you ramp to conflict, how you play with it, how you maneuver around it, how you tap-dance up to the cliff’s edge, do a perilous pirouette, and pull back from the precipice. You’re constantly tightening the screws. Escalation of tension is how a story builds. From bad to worse. From worse to it can’t get any worse. From it can’t get any worse to, no, no, we were wrong, it’s still getting worse because now I’m being stampeded by horses that are also covered in burning napalm. But it isn’t just a straight line from bad to awful. It rises to a new plateau, then falls. Having just witnessed it, birth is a great (if gooey) analog. Each contraction has its own tension and release, but the contractions also establish a steady pattern upward. Some have said narrative arcs are sexual, ejaculatory, climactic. True, in some ways. But birth has more pain. More blood. More mad euphoria. And stories always need those things.

12. Peaks, Valleys, Slashes And Whorls

It’s not just tension. All parts of a story are subject to ups and downs. Rhythm and pacing are meaningful. A good story is never a straight line. The narrative is best when organically erratic. One might suggest that a story’s narrative rhythm is its fingerprint: unique to it alone.

13. In A Story, Tell Only The Story

The story you tell should be the story you tell. Don’t wander far afield. That’s not to say you cannot digress. Digressions are their own kind of peak (or, in many cases, valley). But those digressions serve the whole. Think of stories then not as one line but rather, a skein of many lines. Lines that come together to form a pattern, a blanket, a shirt, a hilarious novelty welcome mat. Only lines that serve the end are woven into play. Digressions, yes. Deviations, no.

14. Big Ideas Do Well In Small Spaces

The audience cannot relate to big ideas. A big idea is, well, too big. Like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Or Unicron, the giant Transformer-that-is-also-a-planet. (I wonder if anyone ever calls him “Unicorn,” and if so, does that irritate him?) You must go macro to micro. Big ideas are shown through small stories: a single character’s experience through the story is so much better than the 30,000-foot-view.

15. Backstory Is A Frozen Lake Whose Ice Is Wafer Thin

Backstory in narrative — and, ultimately, exposition in general — is sometimes a grim necessity, but it is best to approach it like a lake of thin ice. Quick delicate steps across to get to the other side. Linger too long or grow heavy in the telling and the ice will crack and you will plunge into the frigid depths. And then you get hypothermia. And then you will be eaten by an Ice Hag. True story.

16. Characters Are The Vehicle That Carry Us Into (And Through) The Tale

The best stories are the stories of people, and that means it’s people — characters — that get us through the story. They are the dune buggies and Wave Runners on which the audience rides. Like Yoda on Luke’s back. Above all else, a story must have interesting characters, characters who the audience can see themselves in, even if only in a small way. Failing that, what’s the point?

17. Villains Have Mothers

Unless we’re talking about SkyNet, villains were children once upon a time. Which means they have mothers. Imagine that: even the meanest characters have mothers, mothers who may even have loved them once. They’re people, not mustache-twirling sociopaths born free from a vagina made of fiery evil. Nobody sees themselves as a villain. We’re all solipsistic. We’re all the heroes of our own tales. Even villains.

18. Heroes Have Broken Toys

Just as villains see themselves doing good, heroes are capable of doing or being bad. Complexity of character — believable complexity — is a feature, not a bug. Nothing should be so simple as unswerving heroism, nor should it be as cut-and-dry as straight-up-malefic motherfuckery. Black and white grows weary. More interesting is how dark the character’s many shades of gray may become before brightening.

19. Strip Skin Off Bones To See How It Works

A story can be cut to a thin slice of steak and still be juicy as anything. To learn how to tell stories, tell small stories as well as large ones. Find a way to tell a story in as few beats as possible. Look for its constituent parts. Put them together, take them apart. See how it plays and lays. Some limbs are vestigial.

20. Beginnings Are For Assholes…

The audience begins where you tell them. They don’t need to begin at the beginning. If I tell the story of a Brooklynite, I don’t need to speak of his birth, or the origins of Brooklyn, or how the Big Bang barfed up asteroids and dinosaurs and a flock of incestuous gods. You start where it matters. You start where it’s most interesting. You begin as late in the tale as you can. The party guest who comes late is always the most interesting one. Even still, it’s worth noting…

21. …If You Jump Too Fast Into Waters Too Deep And The Audience Drowns

Jump too swiftly into a narrative and the story grows muddled. We have to become invested first. Go all high-karate-action and we have no context for the characters who are in danger, and no context means we don’t care, and if we don’t care then we’re already packing our bags in the first five minutes or five pages. The audience always needs something very early to get their hands around. This always comes back to the character. Give them reason to care right at the gate. Otherwise, why would they walk through it?

22. Treat Place Like Character

For setting to matter, it must come alive. It must be made to get up and dance, so shoot at its feet. It has a face. It has a personality. It has life. When setting becomes character, the audience will care.

23. Always Ask, Why Do I Want To Tell This?

Storytellers tell specific stories for a reason. You want to scare the kids around a campfire. You want to impress your friends with your exploits. You want to get in somebody’s pants. You hope to make someone cry, or make them cheer, or convey to them a message. Know why you’re telling it. Know what its about — to you above all else, because then you can show everybody else what it’s about. Find that invisible tether that ties you to the story. That tether matters.

24. It’s Okay To Bury The Lede

Every story is about something. Man’s inhumanity to man. How history repeats itself. How karate-ghosts are awesome and how you don’t fuck with a karate-ghost. But you don’t need to slap the audience about the head and neck with it. The truth of the story lives between the lines. This is why Jesus invented “subtext.”

25. Writing Is A Craft, But Storytelling Is An Art

Writing isn’t magic. Writing is math. It’s placing letters and words and sentences after one another to form a grand equation. Writing is the abracadabra — the power word made manifest — but the story that results is the magic. That equation we piece together tells a tale and the arrangement that leads to that tale is where the true art lies, because it takes an ice scraper to pretense and throws an invisible-yet-present tow line from present to past. Writing is craft and mechanics. Storytelling is art and magic.