Thursday, January 26, 2017

Respice Finem

I've spent the last year working on a screenplay.  It's a feature, and carries more complex characters than my previous works.  I should also mention that it's a period piece, which has added its own level of glacial slowness towards gaining momentum... but I'm trying to embrace it.  In previous screenplays, I've been hurried to vomit that first draft out on the page as quickly as possible without stopping to question the material, and at that point I just close my eyes and hope that I only need to do one or two re-writes on it before it's a masterpiece.  (I know, it's naive but I can't fight my subconscious on that).  On this project, I'm taking a different approach and trying to have it all figured out ahead of time before putting pen to paper.

About 10 months ago, I ran into a stuck point— Writer's Block.  It stemmed from what I believe is the actualization of an old writer's tale that you should never verbalize your story until it's completed in private.  I had to do this, as I've been working with a partner on this project and I needed to fill him in on the details of what I'd figured out up to this point just to make sure we were in agreeance with the general direction of the story.  But as I was explaining this story aloud, my confidence in what I thought was a surefire structure waned and it felt like maybe it wasn't as strong as I suspected it would be.  The suspicion was confirmed when I shared the scene-by-scene story with another friend of mine who felt like the need wasn't clear enough.  It deflated me a bit, and I've sat idle on it for close to a year now trying to find my point of passion to regain momentum in writing and research.

This week, I had a little time to go back over some old material and I think I'm starting to diagnose the flaws here.  The character is interesting, the premise is promising, the setting is unique and the obstacles are in place, but the previous critique was right on— his intent isn't super clear.  Aaron Sorkin talks about the recipe for drama is intent and obstacle.  Without both, you don't have a story.  Things just passively happen, or even worse, NOTHING happens.  What I thought was the intent of this character is a little too hazy to carry enough weight.  It's heady and is a delusion of the character.  Furthermore, because I'm drawing from real life events, I had kind of an omniscient view of this character's timeline.  And because I knew this character was towards the end of his life, I was assuming the character could feel that as well... but when I think about it... this guy is a fighter, his ambition is great, and he refuses to consider his mortality until it's grabbed him by the collar.  So with that insight, I've got to pivot on an attitude change.

Another thing that's got me thinking on this narrative again is a little note I found while digging in the backlog of unfinished blog posts here for Living In Cine.  It was a writeup I started several months ago that I had found reading a short story by Tolstoy.  It was on the phrase "Respice Finem" which translates to "Consider the end", or to the character in the short story, it represents a rally cry to live so that your life will be approved after your death.  After considering where I am in the writing process, the phrase changed meaning for me.  I considered the end for my character, and I loved how it worked as a theme in a very tragic sort of way, but was blinded by it as a blanket idea, which now needs to be weighed against a man who wants to live and succeed.

My plan is to comb back through some research materials I had yet get to a year ago, and between that and re-arming myself with Syd Field and Aaron Sorkin philosophy fresh on my mind, I think I'll be ready to saddle back up and get this first draft written.  And if it takes another year, so be it.  I'm not under any sort of deadline with this, I'm not being paid for it.  It's for myself, and it's timeless enough that I don't need to rush.  With this project at least, I'm going to try to embrace the ebbs and flows and allow it to take as long as it needs to.  I see the  pitfall in that thinking... no constrictions, deadlines or accountability may mean the project won't ever happen... but I think I can curb that.  The story itself is my carrot on a stick to see it through.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Some Self-Musings On The Creative Mind

I've been thinking a lot about the journey we all go on as artists.  This past December, I went to a relatively small filmmaker's conference in Austin, TX with the video team at my office.  I think we all got something a little different out of the experience but we all agreed that it was incredibly fruitful.  For me, aside from reconnecting with a lot of film folks I've met over the years, I most enjoyed hearing all of industry professionals talking about their craft and individual approaches to putting their artistic sensibilities to practice.

It left me with an invigorated sense to do... to just tear through the fabric of time, set the world ablaze, and thrust myself forward into unknown territories of the disciplines I practice.  It was a kind of nervous energy that crashed a bit when I went back into the regular day-to-day routine... but it felt like a mental awakening similar to when I would read daily on my train ride into work.  And while I haven't had a direct focus to put my energy into, it's left me looking at my career from a macro level.  While doing this though, a few of the best ideas have continued to resonate with me.

A few of the biggest gems I walked away with:
"Plus-It" — David Salter, an editor for Pixar and Disney, introduced me to the idea of "Plus-It" which is a long-said mantra at Disney from decades ago when Walt was still kicking around.  He would challenge his Imagineers to always Plus-It on anything they were a part of.  It's so simple but its implications in a team-based project tap into the true spirit of what collaboration is all about.  Krista Morgan, a fellow blogger, goes into further depth on embracing the idea into a practical setting.

"Memetics" — Two of The Daniels, who created the film Swiss Army Man, gave one of the most engaging talks on the idea of Memetics, which is kind of a sociological explanation of how ideas can catch on in a given culture.  And just as fruitful, they also peeled back the curtain into their creative process a bit by creating, for lack of a better term, a stream of consciousness "thought cloud" that used the principals of memetics to explain why a given internet meme had stickiness.  The whole process lit up my mind and got me thinking about my work in a whole different way.  I even have been throwing around the idea of returning to my thesis I started years ago and after some due diligence and research, bringing the idea into the fold.

"Every sound opens a story" - Paula Fairfield, the sound designer for Game of Thrones, among other works, gave a great talk on storytelling through the use of sound and anchoring decisions in a train of thought.  This is Paula's way of Plussing It, and the whole approach means that no matter what avenue of the industry you are chasing, a rich complexity is added as soon as you can justify and defend your decisions as an artist in practice.
"Hate the edit. Don't hate the editor." - Andy Baker, a creative director at Nat Geo, gave me a refreshing reminder that not everything I'm tasked to do is going to be a masterpiece, especially when performing in a vacuum without a script, or perhaps with too tightly crafted of a script and the mechanics of the story are too loud, or telegraph too much information for the audience.  It reminded me that I can be a good editor but maybe just not be in a position to succeed given some set of circumstances.

One of the other big pieces of value from that trip was the meetings we held afterwards as sort of a company retreat.  In a few day's time we held a self-exploration and discussion about sensibilities, identity and the type of work we want to go after as a company.  Dedicating a few days towards that forced me to think about the type of work I'm attracted to, how I approach storytelling and the philosophies of emotion.

What that did for me was galvanize the intangible web of sensibilities that have been swirling around my work, and brought a whole new clarity to the idea that the best stories are the ones that are most human.  It's very much the Judith Weston approach to drama in appreciating the many facets of the human condition, and embracing the flaws we all have in pursuit of sharing these truths with an audience on a quest to find, renew, reveal, and ignite the very nature of themselves.

And so in my pursuit of bettering myself, I'm going to attempt to dedicate a majority of my work this year towards putting these ideas to practice, getting faster at my technique, abandoning some of my OCD thoroughness, going after some creative risks and moving from a safe "Construct" to a more "Abstract" approach.

Also, I need to get back into practice of regularly reading again.  There.  I said it, so I'm accountable to do it.