Friday, March 26, 2010

How to Write Your Viking Script

I'd seen the cardboard standee in the hall of the Reading Cinemas Courtenay, the multiplex in downtown Wellington, and given it no further thought. Then, a phone call from a friend came in, and he, knowing that I'm "mad" about Vikings, revealed that How to Train Your Dragon is about Vikings. Well.

We checked the times, there was a showing in 90 minutes, enough to eat dinner beforehand, and off we went.

I can't say I was expecting much. This was an animated film aimed at children (and perhaps also those adults accompanying them) and the ostensible concept, high though it might be, stated emphatically that the story would be a fantasy.

And it was. However, it was also the most exhilarating and, dare I say, touching feature I've seen in a long time. There's always a magic to seeing a film of which you've had no prior knowledge, no expectation--and when such a film delivers the goods the experience is all the richer. (The music and animation are also superb.)

What's more, How to Train Your Dragon is the best Viking film to date. As a friend of mine (also a screenwriter) likes to put it, Hollywood has been intent on finding and exploiting all the various ways of getting Viking films wrong. This movie found one way to do it well.

Sure, the Vikings speak with Scottish accents, wear their crazy horned helmets, and swing preposterously oversized battle axes. Normally, this would drive me nuts. But in this telling there's also a respect, at a most basic level, for the ethos of the North: of the toughness and sinew forged in an unforgiving environment, the fatalistic humor borne of unremitting hardship, the elegance of the design and craft. Mel Gibson, are you listening?

Here, the adventures of a cerebrotonic Viking lad with a knack for scientific method provide a splendid source of entertainment as well as entry into a realm that's been willfully misunderstood for a thousand years. See it.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Little Miracles

Some people go their whole lives without having an adventure. -- overheard during last week at my former job

Anything can happen. Anything has happened. There was never a Plan B. No backup, no hedged bets, no second guessing. Just the dream and the path we saw leading to it. One basket holding all our eggs.

The weeks leading up to our eventual settling of the holistic health practice we purchased were nothing short of sublime, a 9-to-1 ratio of beauty to terror. On several occasions it seemed the whole thing might fall through and we would find ourselves without visas, without jobs, without even the ability to legally work, and with only a few short weeks until we left these shores.

We decided we would do the best we could to live well. We visited friends, made new ones, and discovered those new and regular haunts that brought peace and gave shape and rhythm to our days. Several times a week we would take Hawk to the playground at Waitangi Park. Our friend Francisco, a travel photographer, runs the cafe there and proved a source of steady encouragement who never failed to lift our spirits. Situated on the water where Mount Victoria meets Oriental Bay (some of the choicest real estate in Australasia), with a clear view of the green hillside neighborhoods of Kelburn and Karori, the park became our sanctuary. Here, in this spot, we were in New Zealand.

Other aspects of the city played their part, too. The yellow GO Wellington buses bear numerous suggestions for city activities, and if I never GO SMASH A SIX OUT OF THE BASIN, I sure don't mind being encouraged to GO FILM A TRILOGY or GO WIN AN OSCAR. The civic pride is plainly evident here and in the New Zealand Post's Writers and Readers Week, which (among more formal programming) saw the public display--at bus stops, on walls, atop the swing-set of our park--of the finest magnetic poetry generated at installations throughout the city.

We experienced firsthand the kindness of strangers. Just outside the KiwiBank, a gentleman insisted on giving us $30. Unaware of him until that moment, I imagine he overheard our chatterings regarding the annoyingly late arrival of a critical wire transfer. I'd never experienced such open generosity. Sometimes there is such a thing as a free lunch.

Here the common understanding says that between strangers there are only two degrees of separation, not the usual six. This already seems true in my experience, both socially and through our business, though it doesn't hurt having friends in the tourism and hospitality industries. In any case, our roster of local connections has grown rapidly, and for that we're very grateful.

There is a freedom that comes with adventure. Two weeks into our new jobs, we're keenly aware of the responsibilities, as well--to those who work in the collective, to our clients and the broader community, to ourselves. As Jenifer likes to say, now that we've gone through the drama, "We've already done the stupid and impossible, so . . ." And then she laughs. Anything is possible.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010


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