Monday, August 28, 2006

Of House and Home

Quick screenwriting-related note before we get into today's tangent: my local peers and I have been thinking structural thoughts lately, and sometimes these turn to issues of antagonist versus protagonist. Strangely, I'm finding more and more films that don't feature a singular antagonist, the "bad guy," but instead pit Our Hero(es) against the broader "forces of antagonism." Little Miss Sunshine? No antagonist. Just a family falling apart and our society's cult of winning. Invincible? No antagonist. Just darn-near-impossible odds and a mopey neighborhood chum. Both were surprisingly effective films. Even Lawrence of Arabia, which I watched for the nth time recently. No antagonist, at least not in the usual sense. You can make a case for Sherif Ali, I suppose, but really the conflict begins and ends with Lawrence himself.

I don't know why the missing antagonists surprise me so much. Maybe I just wasn't looking before. Maybe it's something you take for granted until you're staring at an incomplete bulleted list of scenes that purports to tell a story. Now don't you worry none. The Norse epic has an antagonist, forces of antagonism, the whole kit. But I . . . what's the opposite of digress?

So. The tangent. Friday afternoon I'm at the gym, just about ready to hit incline dumbbell presses, when Laura the Whimsical Desk Girl wends her way over to the free weights area. "Your wife," she says whimsically, "is on the phone."

Now maybe my body's a temple, maybe not, but the workout itself is something that just isn't interrupted. (Of course, I remain stubbornly and lazily cellphoneless, which means that I'm not gonna just pick up the comlink and engage in idle chitchat between sets. You know who you are.) If Jenifer calls during this time, it's generally a double plus ungood thing.

And how. Seems a couple townhouses across the street were burning. Five fire companies arrived, but in the end two units were destroyed, as well as part of a third. No humans were hurt, but one family lost several cats, dogs, and a lizard. When I pulled into the community, you'd have thought a neighborhood festival was on, with everyone roaming the streets. The atmosphere was nearly festive, though I knew better, and when I parked the car I saw the damage. It looked like a meteor had shot right through the building.

Later, more disturbing news. In a windstorm that bypassed our neck of the woods, a tree had fallen on a friend's house, crushing his second floor. Fortunately, he escaped through a window, but now his years of careful planning and design are suddenly gone. And this during a weekend when Jenifer and I had family and friends over to see the changes we'd made to our house, and the photographs from our trip to Scandinavia. A strange contrast, and I was thankful we'd been spared. It could have been us. Sometimes our greatest challenges manifest in peculiar ways, and one of those high school literature lessons comes rushing back: Man versus Nature. Sometimes the forces of antagonism are quite enough.

Monday, August 07, 2006

What If? The Act 0 Turning Point

Growing up, I was taught two universal truths.

1. Life is hard.
2. You can't win.

If you're a writer, this probably doesn't seem terribly unreasonable. And so, naturally, when Jenifer asked if I was thinking too hard, again, the answer was "yes," again. I'd been jotting ideas down all afternoon and nothing was clicking. There wasn't any flow. And so we went for a walk. I figured it works for neat folks like Thomas Jefferson and Shane Black, so why not?

Jenifer proceeded to ask a brilliant what if? that was the complete opposite of the story thread I was trying to figure out. We talked it out and, soon enough, there it was: a storyline. In the space of two trips around the condoplex, a year's worth of research suddenly added up to something concrete, something that actually had a beginning, middle, and end. Now the various lists and notes would begin congealing into outlines and synopses. I could work with this.

That was Saturday. On Sunday we hiked through Valley Forge National Park, and I managed to capture Jenifer in the wild. You may see this photograph again if you purchase Jenifer's upcoming yoga video. Things are coming together -- "it's already happening" our mantra -- and the job search is set to "high." Stupid universal truths!

Labels: ,