Finding Creativity in the Worst Places

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Neo Yokio is a new show on Netflix.  The show is animated in the style of Japanese anime and features a lot of anime’s stylistic influences.  As an example, the title refers to the city of Neo Yokio, a futuristic vision of New York City where advanced technology and magic work side-by-side.  Our main character is Kaz, a young demon-hunting aristocrat played by Jaden Smith.  The show follows Kaz’s adventures through the upper echelons of Neo Yokio society, attending parties and sporting events while also trying to stop demons from taking over the city.

If that brief summary seemed interesting, let me know, because it will mean I am a better writer than the creators of Neo Yokio.  I watched this show last weekend with some friends.  We had heard about the show and thought, what the heck?  We’d seen the memes, and we all enjoy ridiculously bad stuff, so we gave it a watch.  Two episodes in and we all decided that anything would be better than continuing to watch the show.

There are a lot of problems I have with Neo Yokio.  The animation is fine, if ultimately uninteresting.  The voice cast is really odd: our leads have bland, uninteresting deliveries, while side characters get strange accents that feel out of place.  But my big problem is the writing (gee, a writer having problems with writing, who would’ve guessed?).

In any piece of writing, there are two major aspects to consider.  I’ll call these story and delivery.  Story refers to the structure of the narrative and plot, while delivery refers to the actual manner in which the story is delivered through prose and dialogue.  If the story is good, that means the plot is consistent and realistic, and the added thematic and symbolic depth enhances the reading experience, rather than subtract from it.  If the delivery is good, that means the actual writing of the piece, the dialogue and additional prose, is enjoyable to read and sounds fitting to the tone of the book.

For an example of this difference, let’s look at one of the most famous plays in English: William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Like most of Shakespeare’s plays, the story of Romeo and Juliet is flimsy and hinges on misunderstandings and mistakes to move it along.  The delivery of the play elevates it above its narrative flaws.  The poetry of Romeo and Juliet makes the story seem more romantic than it logically should be.

Neo Yokio has issues in both delivery and story.  Delivery-wise, the dialogue often comes across as unnaturally formal.  The wooden performances don’t help this at all, but the dialogue is too often comedic where it shouldn’t be and flat where it tries to be.  They make good Twitter memes and reaction GIFs, but not a great viewing experience.

Story-wise, there are even more flaws.  Neo Yokio is a story about the upper class, but it doesn’t really know whether it wants to be for the upper class.  A lot of jokes are made based on luxury items (the infamous big Toblerone among them) and potential social and fashion faux pas, but it’s never clear if we’re meant to laugh at the absurdity of these concerns or at the social implications of them.  In the second episode, a major story point involves Kaz accidentally wearing a midnight blue tuxedo to a black-and-white party.  Is it supposed to be funny because of the audacity of wearing that color to such an event, or is it supposed to be funny because of how little that matters to us?  This extends to the characters as well.  Kaz is a demon hunter constantly called to help protect the city, but he only does it begrudgingly, preferring to play field hockey and lounge around doing nothing to saving people.

This is where I start getting conflicted about the show.  While I was watching and trying to piece together what was going on, I started to see faint glimmers of a good show underneath the terrible writing and acting.  This was just the latest example of me seeing something so bad yet with some redeeming factor that I desperately wanted to rewrite it.

There are two ways the show could work, and two possible ideas that you may see from me later down the line.  The first is the easier route: go straight for the absurd.  Skewer the 1% and make it clear that the petty concerns of which perfume to wear or what to order are stupid and mean basically nothing.  Make it clear to the audience that this is something to be laughed at.  This is what I think the show may have originally intended, but ultimately failed at achieving.

The second idea is one that fits a more classic structure.  Start with an aristocrat, the heir to an old family legacy and secret.  Show them in their charmed life of decadence and luxury.  Then, rip the wool from over their eyes and reveal the world around them, in all its wonder and magic.  Have them learn their family destiny and go on a quest.  They may lose some friends to their own self-obsession, but they will gain a sense of perspective and self-actualization that makes their return to a comfortable life all the more rewarding.  This is a basic story structure grafted onto the show’s aesthetics, but it feels more cohesive and less aimless than the current show itself.

Neo Yokio now joins the proud club of “things whose potential I desperately want to squeeze out.”  It’s not a good show.  I really don’t recommend it.  But, there are a lot of shows and movies I’ve seen that I don’t recommend, but have one idea that grabs me and won’t let go.

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Rewrite News

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Hello everyone!

I have some exciting news today!  I have hust finished the latest draft of the Birth by Flame rewrite!  It is currently a 114-page bundle of papers resting in my backpack.

Things are moving along at a great pace.  At this point, I’ll go through this draft and make some edits, then, depending on how the first round goes, either republish or do a second round.  It’s actually really exciting to be at this point!  Hope to have more news shortly.

On the Merits of Reality TV

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Hello everyone!

Today was officially the start of my second year at film school!  I am super excited to be back, surrounded by all my friends, and working on something I love so much.  To celebrate the occasion, I thought I’d write one of my rambly thought pieces about an aspect of my chosen field that often gets an unjust amount of critique and scorn.

I’m here to defend reality TV.

I know.  Why would someone dedicated to studying television and making it as their career advocate for some of the lowest common denominator trash on TV, you might ask.  And true, the end result of reality TV is not often high art.  But, you see, I’m much less interested in the finished product than I am about the process of making it.As a creator, reality TV is a fascinating way to tell a story.

As a creator, reality TV is a fascinating way to tell a story.  While some may complain it isn’t truly “real” and that it’s actually largely scripted, that simply isn’t true for the majority of shows.  Yes, elements of an episode may be pre-determined beforehand and guests may be pre-booked.  For example, all competition shows need to have a clear order of challenges and shows that follow people’s lives often follow them to events they would have attended regardless of the camera’s presence.

The main difference between scripted and reality TV, and what makes reality very interesting to me, is that the actual actions of the character are not scripted.  This has led to some excellent moments where cameras just keep rolling and follow someone’s reactions.  Some of the most entertaining or emotional moments of TV have come from something that could never be scripted, like Tyra Banks’ meltdown on ANTM or the cast of The Real World: Chicago‘s reactions to the events of 9/11.

This challenge of never really knowing what to expect makes reality TV an exciting challenge for editors too.  Even in scripted work, the edit can make or break a movie or TV show.  In reality TV, however, the edit is probably more important than the actual footage.  The edit is where you make characters, plotlines, suspense, drama, everything that keeps you hooked and coming back for more.  Taking hours of essentially found footage over several days and stringing a cohesive 1-hour narrative from it takes a considerable amount of skill that I think is sometimes overlooked.  Believe me, editing is hard enough when you do have a script for reference.

That’s how we should look at reality TV, or at least, how I will from now on.  Not as a way for the talentless to get famous, but as a challenge to the creators to tell a story with no road map.

Hopefully, this was a nice palate cleanser from the last few serious posts.  In writing news, I am about halfway done with my rewrite draft and am really liking how it’s going.  I hope to be done with this draft and onto rewrites and finalizing the draft by the middle of October.

Until next time!

On Charlottesville

Hoo boy.

Initially, I didn’t think I’d be writing about what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend.  I wasnt sure what I could add to the conversation about it.  However, I didn’t want my silence to be misread as agreement for those events.  So, here we are.

What happened in Charlottesville is deeply troubling.  We are stronger together.  Humans can do amazing things when we work toward a single goal.  To see others actively trying to shut others out of the conversation is disturbing, to say the least.

It’s difficult to think of what to do in response to events like this, events that happen thousands of miles away yet still hurt so much.  Especially when you lack the ability to donate money or join marches.  So this is what I am planning to do.  It’s simple, cheap, and it’s honestly one of the only things I feel I can do.

I’m going to keep persisting.  I am going to keep being who I am, keep telling the stories I need to tell, and keep showing love and respect to all of those who need it.  If there is one thing we can do, it’s keep our heads up and focus on making a difference to each other.

I swear I’ll post some more lighthearted stuff soon.  Until then, stay safe out there and love one another.

Thoughts on the 4th

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Hello everyone!

Today is July 4th, Independence Day here in the United States.  241 years ago today, our Founding Fathers declared a new nation based on the belief that people are entitled to certain rights, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A lot has happened since then, and, especially in the last year, it has been difficult at times to find anything worth celebrating about this country.  But, I believe that the US is something more than a president or a government.  Our country is our people and our ideals of liberty and personal freedom.  Maybe that’s not what the Founders wanted, but it’s what I want and what I am celebrating today.

We hold this truth to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.  And someday soon, we’re going to make sure everyone is included in the sequel.

Pardon the schmaltz, but it felt right.  Happy Independence Day everyone!

June Update

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Hello everyone!

As always, it’s been far too long since I last posted.  Just wanted to update everyone on how things are going as well as the status of the Birth by Flame rewrite.

I recently finished my first year of film school.  It was an amazing experience and, while I’m glad to be back home and relaxing for the summer, I can’t wait to go back.

Speaking of summer, I just came back from a week in Puerto Rico.  This was the big family vacation this year, and it was fabulous.  I’ve wanted to go to Puerto Rico for years, and I had an excellent time.  I might be posting some pics soon to keep putting out content.

Meanwhile, my focus for the summer will be cranking out a rewritten draft of Birth by Flame.  If all goes well, I’ll be in the editing phases by the time I’m back at school in August.

That’s about it for today.  Hope everyone had a great Father’s Day and is enjoying the summer.  Until next time!

Kong: Skull Island – Why Am I Still Thinking About this Movie?

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I went with a friend to see Kong: Skull Island last week, and I have not been able to get it out of my head.  What I thought was going to be a light, innocuous popcorn flick turned out to be a really engaging and enjoyable popcorn flick.  This isn’t going to be a review per se, but I do want to share some of my thoughts on this film.

The acting was wonderful all around.  The film is a very well-crafted ensemble piece, with everyone getting good characterization and story arcs.  There were definitely some standouts: John Goodman, John C. Reilly, and Samuel L. Jackson are the main ones that come to mind.  The story itself is well-paced with fun action set pieces that are varied and thrilling to see.  The filmmakers seem to have taken to heart the criticism Godzilla received over not showing enough of Godzilla because there were monsters aplenty in this film.

Speaking of the filmmakers, the film itself looks amazing.  Action movies can tend to look washed out, going for “realism” and ending up with “gray and brown.”  In this film, the colors popped and made every scene on the island feel vibrant and alive.  Even in quieter moments, there was always something interesting to see.  The action scenes were great as well, filmed so they were easy to understand but still had cool shots and moments that made you sit up in the theater (Tom Hiddleston in a gas mask with a katana, anybody?).

All in all, this was a really solid movie that won me over completely.  I can’t wait for the next one to come out, and until then, I will be stalking Tumblr tags for headcanons and crack fics.  4/5. (I wasn’t going into this film to rate it, so I’m hesitant to give it anything higher.)

P.S. Let me know if you’d like me to start doing reviews of movies and other things.  It would get me to start watching more things, and it might be fun.  They’d be more structured than this one, don’t worry.

On Plot Holes & Talking about Writing

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Judging by the sales numbers, I think it’s safe to assume that a good number of you watched Disney’s new version of Beauty & the Beast. I personally was not a fan, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about something that has bothered me for a while and I’ve been seeing more and more recently.

People seem to be really gung-ho about finding and rationalizing “plot holes” in movies nowadays. I’m sure that’s always been the case, but now with the Internet, it’s become much easier to find theories and make them go viral. I actually like overanalysis and crazy fan theories, whether it’s about movies, video games, or any kind of media. I think it’s a fun way to engage with a work that leaves you noticing things you otherwise might not have. At best, it can give you a new insight and deepen your appreciation for your favorite story, even if you don’t think the theory is true. At worst, it’s a fun diversion and ultimately harmless.

So, it’s important to preface that I don’t mind looking for and trying to explain plot holes in a movie. The problem is this discussion has seemed to overtake all discussion over a film’s writing, especially in regards to Beauty & the Beast.

For clarity’s sake, a plot hole is an inconsistency in the story’s logic, where something happens that doesn’t quite make sense. In the original Beauty & the Beast, the main plot hole concerns the Beast’s transformation: namely how old he was at the time of the curse and how long he’s been cursed. Given the information from the film’s prologue and Lumiere’s lines in “Be Our Guest,” we would assume that the Beast was cursed at 11 years old.

This revelation does call into question some of the logistics of the world and the motives of the Enchantress, which could hurt some viewers’ immersion right at the start of the film. And, to be fair, the new film does address this and fix them in fairly unobtrusive ways. However, this fact seems to be the focus of discussion of the film’s writing. A quick Google search for articles about the movie turns up no shortage of clickbait articles about how the remake “fixes” all the plot holes of the original. Meanwhile, actual reviews of the film that don’t mention these “fixes” give a passing mention to the script, mostly in how it added a few scenes and backstory. Rarely do they actually dig into the writing, which, as a writer myself, particularly irks me.

There are some big issues I have with the film’s writing that I haven’t seen addressed, and they don’t involve a leap in logic. The characterization of a lot of the characters is completely off. The Beast feels stiff and standoffish, unlike in the original where he falls head-over-heels in love with Belle in an adorable way. Gaston becomes a boorish idiot, losing some of the menace and charm that made him a memorable villain. For all the hype around making LeFou gay, the script gives him the lowest possible arc for a gay character, complete with a five-second pay off at the end. And the unnecessary backstory adds length to the movie, not really any depth to the characters.

These are problems with the script that directly affect one’s enjoyment of the movie much more than its internal logic. And yet I haven’t seen these discussed at all. I think this speaks to how we talk about movies, focusing on visual elements over the narrative itself, which is a shame, to say the least. If film is one of the great forms of storytelling, we should start really looking at the stories they tell, not just how they tell it.

On Moonlight and Representation

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So, the Oscars were on Sunday.  I actually thought this year was pretty good, without any major snubs or undeserving winners.  In particular, I am very happy that Moonlight won the coveted Best Picture award, and I’ll try to explain why in this post.  If you’re not ready to move on from awards season just yet, keep reading.

Moonlight is notable for many reasons: it was the first film with an all-black cast to win Best Picture, Joi McMillon, the editor, became the first black woman to be nominated for Best Editing, and Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to win any acting Oscar.  And it may be a watershed for LGBT representation in film.

Moonlight is the first movie to win Best Picture with queer characters who survive the film.  It is also one of the few Oscar-nominated films with queer characters that don’t involve death in some way.  That fact is more notable when you learn just how many queer characters have been nominated for Oscars, and how many of those characters have not survived.

The earliest example of a queer character being recognized by the Academy is Rebecca, 1940’s winner for Best Picture.  Judith Anderson nabbed a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her portrayal of the villainous housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, as close to an out lesbian as one could find in the era of the restrictive Hays Code.  With her death by ceiling at the end of the film, Hollywood’s pattern with queer characters was established.  The monstrous coded gay killer would be seen and thwarted again and again in movies like Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951).

It wouldn’t be until 1968, after the end of the Hays Code, that a positive portrayal of coded queer characters was recognized by the Academy.  Daniel Massey’s only nomination was for his portrayal of Noël Coward in Star!.  Coward was private about his sexuality throughout his life and was not out when Star! was made, but was romantically involved with other men and exhibited some flamboyant characteristics associated with gay men.

The first movie to win Best Picture with confirmed queer characters is Midnight Cowboys (1969), the only X-rated movie to win Best Picture.  This movie was rated X for its depiction of gay men.  Queer stories, especially gay stories would only increase through the 70s and 80s, but queer characters were still relegated to being villains or sidekicks.  Al Pacino was nominated for playing attempted bank robber Sonny Wortzik in 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon, while Cher was nominated for playing the lesbian roommate of the title character in 1983’s Silkwood.  The HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s led to more tragic characters, such as Longtime Companion (1989) and Philadelphia (1993), the latter earning Tom Hanks his first Oscar for Best Actor.

And still, queer characters are stereotyped, now as sidekicks or tragic, doomed figures.  The next film centered on a queer character who survives the film and isn’t an immoral villain was Transamerica (2005).  Felicity Huffman received a nomination for Best Actress for her portrayal of a trans woman looking for her long-lost son.  This peak of queer representation was somewhat overshadowed by Brokeback Mountain (2005), the tragic love story between two men that was nominated for 8 Oscars that same night, including a Best Picture nod.

Even with increasing visibility and gains for the LGBT rights movement in recent years, these same stereotypes exist.  The Imitation Game (2014), a film about the life of Alan Turing, pioneering computer scientist and informal namesake of the UK law posthumously pardoning men convicted of homosexuality, was nominated for 8 awards and criticism for its portrayal of Turing’s romantic relationship with fellow female scientist Joan Clake.  At least Imitation Game won an award for its queer content in Best Adapted Screenplay.  The next year, Alicia Vikander received the only award of the night for The Danish Girl (2015) for her portrayal of the cisgender wife of trans woman Lili Elbe, who dies at the movie’s end.  Meanwhile, Carol (2015), a quiet period piece about the love between two women, was snubbed in all 6 of its nominations, not even receiving a Best Picture nod.

This finally brings me to why Moonlight is so important and why I hope it brings more movies like it to mainstream attention.  Moonlight is a movie about the life of a queer man and, at the end of the film, that life is not over.  He’s not gunned down as retribution for his villainy.  Nor does he go quietly into that good night, poignantly wasting away from AIDS or complications and giving straight audiences a tearjerker ending to a sad life.  Even further, Moonlight characterizes him as a real person.  Chiron isn’t some squealing stereotype to be shunted into the background.  He seems like someone you could know in your life or, at the very least, meet somewhere and talk to.

I want to clarify myself to prepare for the inevitable straw men.  No, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with queer villains, although we tend to see those characters’ sexuality played up as either a cause of their evil or an outward manifestation of it, i.e. they are evil so they act either sleep with the same sex or behave stereotypically queer.  And no, I don’t think that writing a queer character’s death is inherently bad either.  Death is an important part of storytelling for many reasons, and it would be wrong to exclude queer characters from having that kind of weight in the story.  But, it is something of a problem when the majority of queer characters who are critically acclaimed wind up dead by the end of that story.

And this gets into the fundamental conundrum with representation.  Why does it matter how LGBT characters are portrayed in film?  Well, especially in the current political climate, real-life LGBT people are in a considerable amount of danger.  There is no legal protection in the US for LGBT people against discrimination in the workplace (17 states), housing discrimination (28 states), and hate crimes (19 states).  LGBT people are especially vulnerable to hate crimes and mental health problems like depression and addiction.  And now, these individuals, especially trans individuals, are worried about basic civil rights protections being taken away from them, rendering them less free than their straight counterparts.

This is why Moonlight is so important and why we need more movies like it.  It allows people to see what queer individuals are really like.  They aren’t repressed and deranged killers, they aren’t one-note stereotypes, and they aren’t doomed, tragic figures.  They are real people with real lives.  And it’s time to show the world why these lives are worth protecting.

Anyone interested in further reading on queer representation at the Oscars should look at these pages.  They really inspired this piece.

http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/history-lgbt-gay-lesbian-trans-films-oscars

http://www.advocate.com/film/2016/2/19/50-straight-people-who-nabbed-oscar-noms-lgbt-roles

“New Year’s” Update

Hello everyone and welcome to 2017!

Yes, I am super late on this, but this past month has been kinda hectic for me with class and stuff.  This year, I’m going to post more often, both worldbuilding updates as well as some more general thoughts.  I hope you find them enjoyable to read.

Not much left to say, just hope you all have a good year!