Wednesday, July 30, 2008

36 Weeks

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Arc Welding

I don't know about you, but this whole “writing” thing strikes me as a pretty treacherous preoccupation. I’m still reeling from the Triple Chocolate Cappuccino Cheesecake that is The Dark Knight and a friend working on a romantic comedy poses a question that goes something like this: If I am trying to demonstrate how my main character (we’ll call him Hunt) changes for the better over time, then must I have him abandon certain silly, quirky behaviors that seem part and parcel of his nature?

The short answer is “No, you can do anything you want, provided it works.” However, because I like to pretend I’m a script consultant sent back in time by John Connor to save my friend’s pre-apocalyptic efforts (he’d do the same for me), I find myself recalling a certain panel discussion at the Austin Film Festival from several years ago. Here the likes of Ted Tally, Shane Black, and Barry Josephson opined that the so-called character arc is not always necessary.

The action item here is that Hunt at some level can’t change—he’s Hunt. He can become more himself, more fully himself, but he’s not going to make a huge change in personality or style. He may finally realize what he was already capable of, nothing more (though that may well be a big stretch). Think of a personality typing system such as the Enneagram, if you will, in which there are nine distinctive ways of relating to the world. You might be a Three, you might be a Nine, but in any case your individual “arc” will be, we hope, from the less healthy side of Threeness or Nineness to the healthier side. But you don’t suddenly become a Four or a Seven because of a series of events or decision you make. You don’t adandon certain silly, quirky behaviors just because you’re making better decisions. Depending on the nature and genre of your script, the climax you choose might be the moment at which the main character finally realizes his fullest potential . . . or sinks into the depths of madness.

I am reminded of a helpful DVD special feature on Randall Wallace’s writing of Braveheart, in which he spoke of William Wallace’s “arc.” I found his use of the term surprising, since I take Braveheart as an example of a film in which the main character doesn’t change all that much. However, to Randall, William’s arc consisted in realizing that, in the end, all the fighting was not going to accomplish the change he sought; he would have to accept the personal risk of further negotiations with the nobles. That’s when his values, his commitment, are put to the ultimate test. And thus William fulfills the theme, that you must follow your heart, no matter what, even if it’s torn from your chest. (Imagine taping that not just to your PC but to the ceiling above your bed.)

None of this is necessarily news to a subsection of my readership, but nonetheless I find it intriguing that the naturalism that seems to result from the anti-arc argument suggests another way in which drama follows life. In fact, just this evening my friend rang me on the cell just as I was about to enter Target in search of a new notebook. He had another question for me, this one about turning points. Something tells me this new behavior is unlikely to change.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fullsterkur 2: Halfway to Alexandria

Please welcome Zack, our guest blogger today. Below he provides his account of our recent trip to the World’s Strongest Man Super Series in Madison Square Garden. Please excuse the title, however. I had lobbied for a simple “The Strongman and the Kid, Part 2,” citing the precedent set by the highly successful “You Are Burning Me” trilogy. I tried to reason with him, pointing out the long lineage of elegant titles whose company his would join. But Zack was set on drawing out the Durrellian elements of the experience while maintaining a measure of total badassness. What can you do?

. . . . .

When I went to the Strong Man Competition in New York , I didn’t know what to expect. One thing I can say, though, is that the competitors were a lot bigger than I thought they would be.

When we got there I was anxious to see these guys. Then Jouko Ahola showed up with another man [Phil Pfister]. Jouko was really big, but nothing compared to the other man. We all shook hands and then Ryan proceeded to talk to the other men. Eventually, Jouko left to go talk to some of the competitors. Then he walked over to another group of gigantic men. He looked small among them.

After that we went to Madison Square Garden to watch them set up for the competition. They had giant tires, coffin-shaped weights, and other gigantic lifting objects. My first impression was that all the men would be very stern, but surprisingly some of them had great senses of humor. After watching them practice for a while we went and had lunch.

Later on we went to the competition. It was amazing how radical some of the people there were. Also, at least 40% of the people there were Poles who didn’t speak a word of English. The competition was awesome. These men were so unbelievably strong! It was like no competition I’d ever seen.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Summer Shower

Shawna over at Shouting at the Wind recently asked whether her fellow writers are actually writing and what goals they’ve set for themselves. I dashed off something of a jujitsu non-answer, saying that these days I’m working on goal-free livin’. That’s an honest answer, if a partial one: on the one hand, yes, I’m concerning myself less and less these days with hard-and-fast deadlines when it comes to completing the various stages of the current opus, recognizing that when we allow it time is not so much a steady march as a wandering, though purposeful, exploration of a balmy summer day; on the other hand, the extended process of writing a movie is never far from the frontal lobe. But there’s a bigger fish to fry, too, and that’s the impending (though timely) arrival of my first child.

Thus, I’m excited to be about a sixth of the way through a new draft. A Real Draft, as opposed to previous outpourings of the ongoing iterative development methodology. It’s going well, swimmingly, in fact, and that’s probably because I’m not hammering at it every last second. But I’m also taking the time to prepare the house, read up on the baby literature, and enjoy my oh-so-busy social calendar. Please join me, then, as I set the flux capacitor to the second day of summer . . .

Earlier that day, which my traveling buddy the Kid had pointed out was already in fact “tomorrow,” I had returned from my field trip to New York City. There would be no rest, however, as I was to play second fiddle to the first, Jenifer, or rather the one within. We would be hosting a shower to celebrate the baby, and there was work to do.

Actually, my part involved showing up and waiting for my parents to arrive. I also bought four bags of ice (not enough) and poured them into a large bucket. In truth, however, much of the preparations had already been made, and we were fortunate to be blessed with so many helpers. So we waited while our guests made their pilgrimages to Phoenixville, to the backyard of our friend Susan’s yoga studio, ocean earth wind fire. Apparently, there is a fifth element, a cloaking device, that prevents otherwise high-functioning adult humans from missing the building, or in some cases the town, and so I sat and drank my Artisans house blend as they cranked their Google machines, GPS devices, maps of seven seas, and other assorted amulets. Previous weeks had seen frantic e-mails expressing great consternation over the coordinates to be plotted in the navicomputer; if at all possible, a friend explained, he would prefer to avoid coming out of hyperspace in the middle of the Cheesecake Factory several towns away, a likely occurrence since he had charted no less than four Phoenixvilles in a 50-mile radius.

But the guests arrived without incident, chief among them my parents, Bearers of the Cake. This was a confection built to exacting specifications by Martín and his staff at the House of Clarendon, an English-style bakery in Lancaster, and no one would dare cut the thing without my parents’ consent or exacting methods (which involved, among other things, a tape measure and dental floss).

Soon the afternoon was full with greetings and well wishes and plain old good conversation, as old friends and new mingled and enjoyed the garden, the music, the food. After a course of quiches, raw veggies, and mixed fruit, the Cake (chocolate pound with Bavarian crème filling) was dispersed throughout the gathered, accompanied by a trio of homemade artisanal gelato: strawberry, pistachio, and a very fresh and herbal mint. And the people were happy.

And so were we. Jenifer and I made our rounds individually and later reflected on our day, our friends and family. They had come for us, for the baby, this new person who occupied the most darkly shaded area of a sprawling Venn diagram of fellowship. These were our people and they would be the little one’s people, if only for a time, and we found ourselves deeply moved by both their generosity and their acknowledgement of our part, however small—or, perhaps, however grand—in the unfolding human story.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hearts and Hands: Seven Songs

This meme comes to you courtesy of Brian from Across the Water: List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now.

Ever since Jenifer and I started carpooling nearly every day, I haven’t listened to much music. We prefer to yammer. Here, then, a minor musical odyssey:

1. “Love’s Divine” by Seal, from Seal IV. This CD recently came back to us after being lost at a friend’s house for four years, not that I’m counting.

2. “Nobody Wants To” by Crowded House, from Time on Earth. The opening track to a CD I listened to nearly every day for probably three months. Wistful, brooding, thoughtful as ever.

3. “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, from Right Down the Line: The Best of Gerry Rafferty (originally on City to City). Quite possibly my favorite pop/rock song of all time, nudging out U2’s “With or Without You” and The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” I've never been to the place and the lyrics are dark, but for me this is the stuff of childhood: summer heat, that burning sax on the radio, and Star Wars in the theaters . . .

4. “Take My Hand” by Toto, from the Dune Original Soundtrack. Quite possibly a perfect song, except that at two minutes and 35 seconds long it is heartbreakingly short. The film was also too short but not perfect. (And yet still I love it.)

5. “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty, from Full Moon Fever. Saw him in concert for the first time a few weeks ago. Brilliant. I knew he was a great songwriter, but had no idea he was such a showman. Truly an American treasure.

6. “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, from Once: Music from the Motion Picture. Great song from one of my favorite movies of last year. It’s even better on the screen. See it.

7. “The Right Moment” by Gerry Rafferty, from Right Down the Line: The Best of Gerry Rafferty (originally on Sleepwalking). The last track on the Best of album. Has there ever been a more haunting kick in the pants? Yes, and it is “Archaic Torso of Apollo” by Rilke, but that is a poem and not an iPodological phenomenon. Crank dat Soulja Boy!

Bonus track: “Yahweh” by U2, from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Some nailed Bono for being too on the nose with the chorus. For me, the track is yet more evidence that no other major act closes an album so well:

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

Next up: Brett at A Bucket of Love, Shawna at Shouting into the Wind, Tom at The Bag Means Your Mind, Tony at The Money Pitt, Courtney at ice cream socialite, Gabi and Natalia at Spanish at the Kitchen Table, and Fun Joel at Fun Joel.

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