Archive for the ‘Writer’s Journey’ Category
Sunday, December 1st, 2013
Back in 1996, I had bought the seminal vehicle that would shape my life for the next few years, the Honda Civic. It was beautiful. Red, shiny, manual transmission, and the entry-level car into rice rocket folklore. My girlfriend at the time was Japanese, my car was Japanese, I was into Japanese cartoons (anime), and totally into Japanese air fresheners. Fellow import car enthusiasts will know what I’m talking about.
Much like the main character in The Fast and The Furious film of 2001, I worked in a car shop that specialized in ricing up, fixing up, modifying imports, though the focus seemed to be Hondas and Acuras because most of the kids doing this kind of thing could only afford those cars.
Meeting some of the car clubs, I was led to the illegals. These were races that took place mostly in industrial areas that had long straight-aways and no prying eyes. Bets were taken, egos bruised, and accidents often occurred. We were—are talking Asian drivers. Time doesn’t erase slanty eyes. Kidding aside, anyone who partook in the illegals was at risk because it wasn’t just the drivers but the bystanders who gladly crowded the sides and watched the loud raspy motors speed down the road. When the police showed up, hundreds of people rushed to their rides and escaped the wrath of tha man. The routine would be to find the next meet up and continue the races. Often, this would continue into the early morning hours of the next day, and the crazy thing was we wanted the cops to come because the excitement of the escape added to the rush of the illegals. It was impossible for them to catch most of us because there could be hundreds of cars winding through the streets away from the few who got caught.
Most of the illegals occurred in the South Bay, what most people know as Silicon Valley, and it got so bad that a special task force was created by the popo to try and subdue the races. Undercover cops dressed as racers would report where the races happened, and a tactical force would block all the escape routes. I know this because my friends and I were caught one time and were forced to pop our hoods open. The cops ticketed for every mod that was done, increasing the fine, even if the parts were street legal. We were a little more intelligent in that we always observed and never raced, and we had gotten wind of a task force trapping our fellow ricers, so we brought a stock car, a car that wasn’t modified. As a result, we were let go. Obviously, what the police were doing didn’t really avert the racers, so they started to give out tickets to the observers as well, despite bringing a stock car. I had stopped going to the illegals at that point, as with most of my passions, my love for hot imports dwindled and died.
Before that happened, the shop that I worked for sponsored my car, which led to other sponsors, and off I went on a tour of the import shows that imbued California at the time. I’m not sure how popular they are now, given the economy, most tuners of that time having grown up and spawning kids, and not to mention wives. Given that my engine was stock internally—no work was done on pistons, bore, etc—my rice rocket was edging closer to a rocket. I had all the bolt ons—cold air intake, header, cat back exhaust, suspension, body kit, etc. I even had stickers on my car of all my sponsors along with graphics to liven the color scheme and joked that it added five more horsepower. However, my Civic was transformed when I introduced it to force induction, an Eaton supercharger. It was like driving a real sports car.
So the natural next step was to see how fast I could go. I had a friend at the time who had a supercharged Integra GSR, so we decided to go to Sacramento and run the quarter mile. On the day that we were supposed to go, a Ford F250 Super Duty truck decided to kiss the ass of my car, hard. It hit my car so hard, the impact broke the rear wind shield into the back seat. Anyone sitting there would have been seriously hurt. I don’t know if the universe was telling me it was time to move on, but that ended my import car days, and unfortunately, my red hot Civic.
One of my fondest memories of those years was meeting Paul Walker. Many of us had heard whispers of a movie being made based on the huge tuner scene, but we didn’t know who was involved and what the story was like. Along my tour that led me to Southern Cali, my friends and I were walking around, checking out all the modded cars. We happened upon one, a Nissan R34 GT-R. At the time, GT-R’s were the Holy Grail of sorts because they were only sold to the JDM, Japanese Domestic Market. One wants what one can’t have. I couldn’t afford one then and was left to drool on this particular one that was imported from the motherland. On the window was a blurb describing who the owner was and that Paul Walker was starring in the upcoming The Fast and The Furious movie.
Having little filter, I said out loud, “Who the hell is Paul Walker?” I looked over to a table next to me, and this good-looking guy, six foot two, was signing a poster for a fan.
My friend said to me, “Ask him where the Asians are.”
By then, we had seen trailers of the new movie and my complaint was Where are all the Asians at? I wasn’t a writer at that time, so ending a question like that with ‘at’ was all right. Most of the attendees at these import tuner shows were Asians of all kinds, hence the term rice rocket—aside from the fact that they were modding Japanese cars.
Nervously, I sauntered up to Walker and said, “Where are all the Asians at in your film?”
He smiled and said, “They were cut,” then shook my hand. Man that guy was tall.
He spent the next ten minutes talking to us about the movie, when the sequel was being filmed, and allowed us to take a picture of him next to his GT-R. He was incredibly gracious.
Rest in peace Paul Walker.
Monday, November 25th, 2013
As a man, I’ve never told a woman which brand or type of tampon to use. The reason seemed obvious. But just in case, men don’t use tampons. I know, I know. Big surprise.
So, someone who doesn’t write as a profession, or at any level besides penning a to do list, shouldn’t suggest whether I’m capable of writing or not. But his assumption is pandemic through the literary world, both expert and not.
When meeting new people, the natural question is to ask, “What do ya do?” I usually answer, writer. That’s cuz I spend a lot of my free time writing, thinking about my story, fantasizing about my characters, their emotional state, dialogue, everything that has to do with the current novel that I’m working on. Whether that makes me a professional or not, having yet to earn a living from it, is up for debate.
On an amazing hike, an older gentleman questioned whether I could be a good writer. And it wasn’t because he’d read anything of mine, but looked at me and asked whether I’ve lived an interesting life and had enough life experience. Even if all I do is work, go to the gym, write, and go out on the weekends…hmm…I can imagine an interesting story.
I could feel my ego jump outta my skin and want to rip this guy to shreds, not literally of course, just figuratively, because the notion that a writer has to write what they know is preposterous. Do writers have to do research? Damn straight. But does that mean Jeff Lindsay has to be a serial killer in order to be able to write convincingly about Dexter? I don’t know the man, but I highly doubt it. What he knows about, what we all know about if we let ourselves, is the darkness that lives in humans. And with a little research, he can write a well told story about the need to kill.
So does that mean a child or a teenager is incapable of writing about darkness? No. The amount of cyber bullying and random school shootings suggests that darkness can live within us at seemingly any age.
Well, darkness and hatred is a very easily accessible emotion. Having taken many years of acting, I can attest that’s true. What about love? Can youths write about love? For sure!
Adults call youthful lust puppy love. But that only degrades their emotion as less intense and real. Remembering my crushes during my formidable years, I was traumatized when girls didn’t like me, and in some ways, that has carried over to my adult life. We know youngens love just as much as adults do. I mean, look at the young adult book market, it’s massive. And Twilight wasn’t the start of it all, but being one of the biggest best sellers indicates the voracity of young love. I’ve also met a lot of grown men who’ve yet to grow up. Trust me. We ain’t dat mature when it comes to women.
There’s one main point that I’m trying to make here. Don’t argue for your limitations, and no one is an expert on you but you. You wanna do something, follow your dreams, pursue a passion, do something that people have said you can’t? Good. And fuck the naysayers. Failure is when you argue for your own limitations. Success isn’t determined for the weak-hearted. Often, it takes strength and courage to following your dreams. Whether you make it or not can’t be a determinate of your success—says the unpublished novelist—but to quit or to not start are the true failures. To use a simple example, you have to be in it to win it.
Saturday, November 9th, 2013
What is story? According to Robert McKee, it’s a quest. Whether the main character is looking for love, redemption, or the villain that will destroy the world, it’s a quest for something. Like in the Karate Kid (1984), it’s the search for enlightenment. Love that movie.
In the beginning of my own writing journey, I went to many different sources to learn what story was. The first big lesson came from a Japanese film maker named Akira Kurosawa, who made what many consider one of the best films, THE SEVEN SAMURAI. Diving deep into the learning process, I decide to buy the Criterion version because it included about five hours of commentary from academics and experts of his work.
Excited to watch, I sat down, threw the DVD in, and said, “What that hell?” On the surface, the story was about villagers who are threatened by raiders that steal their food every harvest, so they go to hire Ronin to defend them. Problem is that they have no way of paying. This is a good film?
After watching the commentary, I got a really good education of how Kurosawa told story, the layers he lathered in each scene, and how many of today’s film makers take from him without even knowing it. Or maybe they do and I don’t know it.
Continuing my education of what story is, I went to a writing conference in San Francisco, and one of the lecturers taught how to break down a large three act story into tiny parts, something that severely helped me complete my books. So following him on Facebook, I came across the following article that I will paste in completion. See the cliffnotes below for a summary:
“Gravity: REALLY good. But. Arguably, strictly speaking, by a VERY strict Aristotlean definition, not actually a “story”. Please understand me — I’m not going to spend a lot of time below responding to comments like “but it IS”, or “but it’s so GOOD”…I said that above, I refer u to the first sentence of this post…it’s something REALLY good…and it IS a “story” by the layman’s definition thereof, a relation of events via mimesis (that’s one effete layman) but maybe not a “story” by strict Aristotlean standards…there is no personified antagonist…the forces against the heroine do not/cannot embody opposing values…and therefore the conflicting values of hero and villain cannot yield “theme” by synthesis, or at best only simplistic theme. What’s the themeof Gravity? Survive!!! Basically, that to survive is worth fighting for? Also, most (3 of 4, look it up) revelations in stories are twists about the antagonist, and with gravity as your bad guy, we can’t really learn your best friend is working with gravity to betray you, that gravity planned to betray U all along or that this whole thing was part of gravity’s plan for world domination or to steal your husband, etc.
Therefore, all it has to wow us is ascendingly larger spectacle. And it does an incredible job with that. And is wise to only try to sustain 90 mts.
But this has always been the issue with your “man against nature” story (which arguably didn’t exist when Aristotle wrote his Poetics). And most people still call them stories…so, tell me what a dope I am below, but I will cling to the hope that what I really am is a scholar drawing an obscure distinction that will matter only to Poindexters like me, or perhaps even only this Poindexter, me. And Aristotle. Again, it was a REALLY good thing, but maybe not a “story” thing. And I could write one of whatever it is.”
I wanted to paste the whole thing so you could see that I wasn’t bullshitting you. The basic gist is this: The bad guy is not a person, so there can’t be any real twists, or the exchanging of opposing values or ideals.
Clearly, this guy has never heard of the phrase, “You are your own worst enemy.”
The spectacle he talks about is the special effects director Alfonso Cuarón uses. And it’s pretty freakin’ awesome, especially with 3D glasses. Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, who is trying to do some repairs on a space telescope when satellite debris from an explosion destroys the shuttle, complicating her trip back to Earth. Now, along with Mathew Kowalski, played by George Clooney, they must find a new way back.
Warning: Spoilers are comin’! Spoilers are comin’!
Kowalski asks Stone what kinda music she listens to. She states that it doesn’t matter. She gets off of work, gets in her car, and drives so she doesn’t have to think (about the daughter she’d lost through a freak accident of no fault of her own). And that is what the story is about. Letting go of the past. At this point, I knew that Stone would have to confront her own mortality, death, hitting rock bottom before she would let go of her past, and move on with her future, which required a really clever way of getting back home. The space that she created when letting go of her past, allowed the solution to appear, and as such she grows from this and becomes the woman she’s meant to be.
Essentially, Stone was her own worst enemy. Once she got out of her own way, she was able to think clearly enough for a solution to appear.
Now, if this expert in story doesn’t think that the ability to move on from one’s past, or that letting things go instead of holding on to things is worthy of story, then he’s a freakin’ idiot.
I used to have a life coaching business before giving it up to write. And the one thing I always tried to teach is let things go and don’t argue for your own limitations.
One of the fundamental mistakes that traditional therapists make is the exploration of the past. I’m not belittling the past or saying that it isn’t important. But why hold on to it? Here’s an extreme example:
A woman was molested as a child and develops an inability to trust men and form intimate relationships. What’s the problem? A little mistrust of men is healthy for a woman. No. The man who will love her is not the man who molested her as a child, but often, in her mind, he is.
Let’s take that same situation and go to another extreme: this same woman gets in a car accident and forgets her past from amnesia. Will her past now haunt her and prevent her from forming intimate relationships? No.
The key difference is her letting go of the past, which must happen internally.
If we look at this from a general point of view, most of our hang ups in life were formed some time in our past, DUH, but the mistake is we carry it with us, baggage. If we were to truly let go of the baggage, we’d be a much happier people.
McKee also said that story must have change. Whether we exit a scene or end a story, something must have changed, good or bad. And, as storytellers, we know that the change in the character must happen inside. Yes, external circumstances may be the catalyst, but for the person to grow, become the person they’re meant to be, that change must be realized from within, that the character finally sees the light. All change comes from within, or happens within. Therefore, you don’t need an actual person to be the antagonist.
A great example of this is another Japanese movie called TWILIGHT SAMURAI. I absolutely love this movie. There is no bad guy. The samurai in question just thought so little of himself that he didn’t think he deserved anything better than what he had. Things change when a woman he’d been in love with, still is, comes back in to his life. Always about the women. And he decides that he does want more out of life and does something about it, becoming the person he should be.
I always caution people about experts, that experts don’t know everything, and I count myself in that group, meaning take what I say with many grains of salt. And this guy makes his living by traveling the country and teaching writers what story is. That doesn’t mean he knows everything about story, or is even open to what story can be. He even missed the title having layers of meaning. Gravity doesn’t just pertain to the weightlessness of space, but can point to the gravity of carrying baggage, the gravity of losing someone special like a child, and the weightlessness of finally losing that baggage and being free to be who you really are. I’m sure the director had other layers of meaning, but that’s for him to know and for us to discuss.
Aristotle? Come on, pal. There’s got to be some evolution here.
Thursday, October 24th, 2013
Have you ever met the antichrist? A real asshole? Someone that you wanted to punch because that would feel so good?
One of the tenets of having a great protagonist, a fantastic hero, the chosen one, is to also have a great antagonist, an antichrist, a real bad boy, or girl.
I get newsletters from different writing sites, and one of them caught my attention. They wrote about the movie CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, starring Tom Hanks. I hadn’t seen the movie, but the letter stated the bad guys made some stupid mistakes that allowed them being defeated, which minimized the accomplishments of the hero. Despite the movie being based on real life events, the letter had a good point.
One of the greatest things about STAR WARS is Darth Vader. As a kid, that guy was scary. He had ultimate control over the Force, could choke someone out without even touching him, and was a skilled swordsman with a lightsaber, the coolest sword in the universe. And he killed Luke’s teacher, a war hero in his own right. What? Luke was an underdog when it came to Vader. But we knew Vader had to go, and we knew Luke was the one to do it, but we didn’t know how that was gonna happen since Obi-Wan was dead. And the intrigue into Luke’s heroic path was something I loved.
So when I read the letter, I immediately remembered the post I wrote about the martial arts school I used to attend.
When I wrote that post, I had an inkling that it would find its way back to them, not through any active part by me. And I didn’t write it because I wanted to thwart their business, I wrote it because it was something that spoke to me, one of the main reasons why I left that school. It took them about four months to discover it, and I heard the owner of the school, who doesn’t teach there much anymore, made a special trip from across the bay to talk about little ol’me.
Now, if I wrote a story and the owner of the school was the bad guy, and the hero, some awesome writer, wanted to draw him out, and the bad guy took the bait since the comments by some of the students on that post are still there, I’d say the antagonist was really stupid, and that I did a bad job in creating the bad guy.
As the writer, I have to make sure the antihero is formidable. Otherwise, anything the hero does to overcome the odds looks weak. And that’s what I hope I did in my book, NIGHTFALL. The bad guy kicks some serious ass, and my hero is rubbin’ his bum, but that’s part of the fun in stories. The underdog is the underdog for good reason. He’s gotta pull himself up and take it to the baddie. Otherwise, the reader, audience will be bored.
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
Ever have dinner with a bunch of assholes?
Couple weeks ago, I went to dinner with some acquaintances. I didn’t know the woman, a financial planner, who was on a hike I’d gone on would be there, otherwise I would have bailed like hay. Unfortunately, she was not the worst of the six peeps around the table in the grimy hot pot restaurant.
One of the main themes I explore in my book, NIGHTFALL, is ego. I got a real lesson of what ego really was during my stint teaching at the martial arts school that I used to attend. Of course, they taught not to have one, but they were of the school ‘Do as I say, not as I do’, which was one of the main reasons I left.
In NIGHTFALL, I don’t preach about not having ego, nor do I preach about having one. Certain characters will fall due to their ego, and certain characters prevail because of it. And as a writing guideline, I don’t lecture about it, but show how ego can affect each characters’ actions and the consequences that befall them.
In real life, ego plays out in different ways. I’m a huge UFC fan. By his legacy, Anderson Silva is considered the greatest of all time MMA fighter. He holds the longest winning streak in the UFC, is one of the most feared fighters, and seems to have skills beyond the normal human being. According to him, his showboating in the cage is just who he is. I think it’s part of his mental game, taunting his opponents’ mind to make a mistake. I always attributed that to his ego, and he’s been successful at it. That was until he fought Chris Weidman, who knocked Silva out while he showboated. Now, Weidman had admitted that Silva’s showboating pissed him off and caused him to throw caution to the wind and sling punches, something that Silva wanted. But this time, Silva got caught. So is ego bad?
At dinner, the guy who chose the restaurant was a total dickwad, DW. He had asked a new transplant to the City how long he’d been here. A couple months, but he’d been to San Francisco six previous times to interview for jobs. DW asked if they flew him here, and the new guy acknowledged. Laughing, DW stated that if he’d been the interviewee, they would have flown him out dozens of times, touting his intelligence. I knew that DW thought he was smarter because he stated so and even called the guy stupid. If this was DW’s sarcastic attempt at joking, he fucking sucked at it.
Then he turned his attention to me. Ooh, a challenge. Somehow we got on the subject of same sex marriage, and I told everyone at the table that I supported it. DW asked me why. What business do I have telling someone what they can or cannot do, especially when it doesn’t affect me. He scoffed and stated that a lot of things people do don’t affect me. Whoa, he is smart.
“What if someone shoots and murders another person,” DW asked.
I wanted to tell him that it still didn’t affect me, because I assumed the threat wasn’t immediate to me. But I don’t think he would have understood that, so I stated that’s an extreme situation, and the threat to me is real if that murderer turned their attention to me. Even then, he didn’t quite accept my argument, but agreed it was extreme, and was upset that it didn’t support his stance.
The financial planner then argued, “Well, they’re stealing money from me?”
Since Thelma and Louise, I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to gay couple criminals, and asked what she meant. I know. They weren’t lesbians.
DW clapped his hands, applauding her, and threw it at my face. She explained that married couples have tax benefits, and therefore, are stealing money from her by not paying more taxes. Geezus Kryst.
“Couldn’t you say the same thing about heterosexual marriages?” I threw back.
“No, because men and women have been getting married for thousands of years,” she assured. What do you call a female dickwad? Dickwaddess?
DW clapped again, then asked me if I was gay. Before I could answer, he accused me of being gay. Before having the opportunity to react, DW then asked if I like butts. What ignorance. I couldnt believe he was gay bashing me. But I admitted I was a butt man, as that is my favorite part of a woman’s body.
“You better stay away from me, man. I don’t want a reputation,” DW said, showing me the hand.
At this point, about a thousand thoughts barged into my mind. One being that I could kick this guy’s ass, and I don’t say that unless I feel that’s a real possibility. I know, I’m a pussy. More importantly, I chose not to defend myself, and the reason was simple:
To do so would mean that I at some level affirm that homosexuality is deviant, and that I would have to lower myself to DW’s level and swim in the garbage that is his mind. Homosexuals may not be socially acceptable in some circles, which is complete shit, but that doesn’t fucking mean it’s wrong. Again, the thought of punching this guy in the face blared in my mind. I just don’t think the public defender would do a good job on my behalf.
My ego was bruised, not because someone accused me of being gay, I mean, I am what I eat, pussy, but that this guy was so full of himself, I wanted to be Weidman and knock this asshole out. The financial planner too, but she’s naturally a bitch and couldn’t help her own stupidity. And both these assholes live in the City, the capitol of Gay Pride. What a couple of putz. Putzes? Putzi?
Sunday, September 15th, 2013
From my experience, having an antagonist that seems or is very distant can present the small issue of conflict and tension; the chosen one may not always have direct contact with their antichrist. So having someone that is a little closer, aside from circumstantial disasters, to provide some conflict with the main character is important.
One good example is Draco Malfoy. In HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, For He Who Shall Not Be Named is somewhere off in the Forbidden Forest, which is forbidden, and doesn’t provide direct conflict until the end. By Malfoy’s name and Harry’s alliance with Ron puts Draco in direct conflict with Potter. We as the readers realize this fairly early.
In NIGHTFALL, my hero has to fight a war with his former teacher. Problem with that, geographically, they’re a continent apart. Though, the antagonist does affect my hero even through the distance, I like to have other characters that constantly give the hero issues. That along with circumstantial disasters allows me, the author, to put my hero in constant conflict by different means. I’m hoping that keeps my readers’ interest throughout the trilogy. Aside from the fact that Draco was the constant heel of Harry, my hero will have some that are constant, some that will turn on him for a good length of time, while others will represent red herrings, like Professor Snape.
I did this because the story required it, that somehow it needed it, and it wasn’t a conscious requirement on my part. What got me thinking about it was a hike that I’d done with a group in Point Reyes, located in Northern California next to the coast. It’s an incredible area, known for secluded beaches, immense hikes—ours was 15 miles—and shaded trails that bode well even in the summer (see gallery below).
Around twenty of us went, most were very friendly, and I’d known a few of them from prior hikes. There was one woman who seemed to be my heel for the day. Why? I don’t know exactly, but maybe because after I introduced myself I had left without continuing our conversation. I felt no connection to her whatsoever, I usually don’t know why when that happens, but most of the time my intuition is right so felt no reason to talk to her further.
Half-hour into the hike, a group of us were talking about something, and she made a point. I disagreed with it, and she kicked dirt at me. So being immature, I kicked dirt back. I know, childish. Then, like a thundercat, she reached for the ground and grabbed a fistful of dirt, twigs and leaves, ready to throw it at my face. She demanded why I kicked dirt at her, and I’m like…what? Like a third grader on the playground, I said, “You kicked dirt at me first!”
“Oh, we’re even then,” she agrees.
At this point, I began to see my intuition was correct.
Throughout the hike, she kept taking jabs at me. Somehow, we got on the conversation on height, and I jokingly stated she was short. She pointed her finger at me and said, “Hey! You’re short. I’m average.” She’s 5’2” and I’m 5’6”. Sorry little girl, but we’re both short. I said nothing, thinking my immature behavior earlier may have prompted the wrath from this woman before realizing maybe it was me leaving abruptly when we met.
Toward the end of the hike, I was flirting with a girl, and I had said something she didn’t understand. So when I tried to explain, she laughed and told me don’t even try. So I said,” You’re gonna play me like dat?” Sometimes I get ghetto without knowing it. The woman with the wrath turned around—she wasn’t even part of the conversation—and said, “She knows you’re full of it,” and high-fived the girl. Since the short comment, I decided not to joke with this woman because she definitely can’t take it. She found great comfort and camaraderie with people who seemed to agree with her philosophies of life, nothing wrong with that. But I knew she was a person who was very closed. Her ego dictated her every emotion and action. Not saying mine doesn’t have some effect on me—kicking-dirt incident—but when it happens I’m aware of it, which was why I didn’t react to the many jabs she’d taken.
All of this is to say one thing: trust your intuition. Well, how do you do this? Simple. Whenever you have confirmation that your intuition is true, you thank it.
I began to realize this when I kept cursing myself whenever I forgot my keys, or my bag, etc. I forgot more and more and more. So I tried something. Whenever I remembered something, I thanked whatever part of my mind that remembered. And I forgot less and less. Do I still forget things? Sure. But not to the degree when I punished myself for it.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Let it go. Things will get better.
Monday, August 26th, 2013
In my post, The Killing Mood, I talk about how THE KILLING was heavy emotionally because it not only focused on the detectives hunting for the killer but also delved into the hole that murder leaves in a family. And the only way that I know how to do that is to get really intimate with the affected people dealing with their pain, memories, guilt and regrets of their last ragged encounter with the dead.
I had read reviews of jOBS, the biopic about the famed Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. Ashton Kutcher, from all the reviews I’d seen, stated to some degree that he did a great job imitating Jobs, but the movie itself didn’t do anything to add to what fanboys already know. I think the main issue here is lack of intimacy.
Now you may say, “You haven’t even seen the movie.” Correctamundo, as Michaelangelo would say, the ninja turtle.
But I’ve seen enough biopics, even DRAGON: The Bruce Lee Story, to know that most don’t do the subject justice because they try and fit too many things, eventually diminishing the whole person down to a book report written in bad grammar.
This is where movies like FRUITVALE STATION and LINCOLN excel. Both deal with huge issues, in this case racism, but both take it from an intimate point of view of the character. I’m not sure if the fact that both characters die at the end makes it more intimate, but since many who’ve I talked to about LINCOLN wished there were more action makes me think that’s not the case. It is called LINCOLN, not LET’S SEE SOME CIVIL WAR KILLIN’S.
jOBS, I think, fails in regards to intimacy. In writing, especially storytelling, there’s a term called rooting, where the creator emotionally roots the characters to their readers or audience. This can be done through tragedy, an example is my prologue, through teaching someone something new, THE KARATE KID, or the sacrifice of oneself, 300. I know. But I loved that movie. The inherent problem with trying to show a life story is showing the life story. We can’t get a sense of who these people really are because the storyteller is moving through the events quickly to get everything in.
When any story tries and covers long periods of time, it loses touch, and as a result, loses their audience. That’s why most fictional stories focus on important events and rarely dive into the life and times of so and so. It’s the tenet of fiction, write about the important stuff, cut everything else.
The Sony film on Steve Jobs is being written by Aaron Sorkin, who wrote THE SOCIAL NETWORK and one of my favorites, THE NEWSROOM. He has stated that his script will center on backstage events of three Apple product launches.
At first I was taken aback…and beaten. Then I realized that’s pretty ingenious. It allows us to get real intimate with Jobs the person, and since so much of him bled into his professionalism–his crying, temper tantrums, bullying, and the like–we should get to see many facets of this master marketer. And this is what biopics try and show anyway, who the person is, at least from the storyteller’s point of view.
Saturday, August 24th, 2013
Just in: I’m in my hometown, sitting outside of a Starbucks doing rewrites and edits, enjoying the warm summer day, sipping some good old, mass produced coffee. In front of me is a group of girls, by their conversation, are of high school age. Outside of that, I don’t know what they’re talking about.
A lady walks by with her dawg and stops, looks over at the girls, and backs up. “What are you girls reading?”
The brunette says, “Jesus Calls.”
Filling with pride, tha dawg lady says, “You go gurl. And youth, too! I wanna see your TV show. Jesus is the one. Remember him.”
I laugh because my book is full of characters that look like Satan: webbed wings, fangs, claws, with feet able to perch on branches. There’s a small urge to show them and dawg lady a picture of whom I’m writing about, but I never make fun of religious cults to their faces. That’s a lie.
Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Lately, I’ve been a bit obsessed with zombies: WALKING DEAD TV show and comics, WARM BODIES, the CDC’s warnings of a zombie break out, ZOMBIELAND, WORLD WAR Z book and movie, on and on. This is partly because I had gone to school for kinesiology and know that the exact definition of a zombie can never be. That doesn’t mean that what zombies symbolize don’t exist. They do. Everywhere.
I’d bought the Max Brooks’ book before seeing WWZ and found it fascinating. I didn’t know why until I read a critique of the movie of the same name. The book is a collection of first hand accounts of the zombie take over and the fall of the world. Each chapter represented an intimate look at how certain emergency initiatives, government agencies, armed forces and advanced weaponry failed, from every corner of the globe. It was all incredibly convincing, and I began to contemplate the very real possibility of The End. The movie, on the other hand, didn’t do a good job of that.
Reading an article in Vanity Fair suggested that fifty or so first hand accounts does not a good movie make. From a moviegoers’ perspective, Hollywood thinks that we need a main character to root for. In a way, they’re kinda correct. But the movie makes a fundamental mistake: it wasn’t intimate. Part of the reason we need a main character is because once we’re rooted emotionally to him, Brad Pitt in this case, we’re then drawn in. However, nothing about most of the movie is intimate because he deals with massive zombie attacks over large groups of people. The only real intimacy we get is his love for his wife and children…and then at end when he has to travel through a maze of offices—alone—to find a potential solution. With each turn of a hallway, entrance to a new room, opening of a new door brought the real possibility of confronting a fast running zombie, the most intense part of the whole film. And I think the fast running zombies, not written in the book, but chided by some hardcore zombie traditionalists, was a great choice. It broke convention of the slow lumbering dead.
Lumbering through the above three paragraphs brings me to the one show that has taught me something about storytelling: THE KILLING.
The AMC show is currently in its third season, and I’m still hooked. But it was the first two seasons, the Rosie Larsen murder, that hooked me in. Out of all the procedural shows—all the CSI’s, BONES, LAW AND ORDER, etc—KILLING brings to the forefront the epic hole that is left in the surviving family and friends. To say the show was heavy is an understatement. I’m sure less than a quarter of the show was dedicated to the mother and father and two brothers whom had to deal with the very tragic and mysterious death of Rosie. Each character showed through conflict or flash backs their pain, memories, guilt, and regrets. Here, the writers took their time, using the smallest detail and stretching it over a whole scene that laid a feeling thick with anguish and sadness.
For me, there was a sense of real loss, a real feeling of death, and the scent that only a murder could bring. Not that I smelled anything, but somehow the smell of rot entered my mind. And you would imagine that the murder scene was gruesome, especially if you’re used to shows like BONES and DEXTER, both of which I’m a fan of. In terms of visual intensity, KILLING was very tame but creepy (See above: Rosie found in a trunk of a car). But the experience of watching the show was weird, and the only way I can explain it was the intimacy each character brought. From that perspective, the writers of the show did a wonderfully morbid job.
Intimacy. That was the key.
Intimacy. The most intense scene of WWZ was the climax, where Pitt’s character had to confront zombies face to face, literally.
Intimacy. Romance novels are king in this area, so of course makes up at least 50% of the fiction sales.
Intimacy. The one thing that people want in their relationships, whether they know it or not.
Monday, August 5th, 2013
Choices. Interesting word. Many spiritualists state we don’t have choices, that all decisions are already made. The choice between having sex or throwing myself off the Golden Gate Bridge is a no brainer. I get that. My friends and I had the choice of watching TWO GUNS or FRUITVALE STATION. Another no brainer. Here’s one. What would you do: sell dope when you have no money with bills looming over you, or throw the dope away? That is what the lead character Oscar Grant III had to make in the true story, FRUITVALE STATION.
I wanted to watch it because I ride the Bay Area Rail Transit—BART—when I go to the office and pass by Fruitvale station each time. And I visit my mom once a week in Oakland and often find myself in an Oscar Grant protest. When the incident happened, the streets of Oakland were covered in flyers, proclaiming the injustice. In the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered about the events that happened on New Year’s Day, 2009. And from the reviews that I’ve read about the film, there were some artistic license that were taken, but does that matter?
Ryan Coogler’s film does something special. Most non-Blacks have no idea how much racism Blacks endure. Being an Asian man, I go through my own stereotypes. People think I have a small penis, I drive badly, own my own laundry business, am good at mathematics (which explains why I’m a writer), am really bad with women, drive riced up cars, and am into really kinky sex. OK. Some of that stuff is true. I do do my own laundry and used to drive a fast and furious Civic.
There’s a long running science exhibit in San Francisco called The Exploratorium. It’s an amazing place that makes science palatable for us layman, allowing us to touch and work the experiments in each exhibit. There are many social experiments that reveal certain truths about human nature. In one spot, the directions state to look up at a point in the ceiling and wait to see how many others follow, looking for that elusive spot. I fell for it. Another exhibit called the Question Bridge talked about the Black experience, produced by Delroy Lindo. There are several screens showing Black Americans asking each other questions regarding their treatment in America. For example, doctors treat them like low class citizens compared to non-Blacks, making it difficult to get good medical care. That shocked me. What was cool about the Question Bridge was the diversity of thought, breaking the traditional views fed to us by the media.
All of this revealed how little I knew about the Black experience. Like the Question Bridge, FRUITVALE breaks down that barrier and gives us a slice of Oscar Grant’s life, be it his last day, which only made the normal activities of spending time with his daughter, his girlfriend and family, calling his mother to wish her a happy birthday, driving around making plans to go to the City—San Francisco—for New Year’s Eve, dealing with the mounting bills, and making future plans that will never come to fruition all the more poignant. We all can relate to this as our lives are filled with ups and downs, mundane activies, and moments of contemplation of choices.
On the flip side, we non-police don’t know what’s it like to be an enforcer of the law. Imagine the amount of shit they take on a daily basis, the bullshit they have to sift through, and red tape that sometimes hinders justice that plays on the ego. Now imagine what it’s like to patrol BART on New Year’s Eve. I’ve gone to the City to watch the fireworks off the piers, and the streets are literally packed like sardines, hundreds of thousands of non-City folk going to one spot, most taking BART because alcohol is usually involved. In reality, if we wanted to take on the cops on that night, we’d win hands down. That’s reality. That’s the pressure those cops are under.
What’s awesome about Coogler’s film is the portrayal of Grant in all his colors: his loving side, his disloyalty to his girlfriend who’s also the mother of their daughter, his close relationship with his mother, his generosity to strangers, his violent nature during his time spent in and out of jail, it’s unflinching. But Coogler doesn’t demonize the cops either, a natural and easy cliché. Like I said, Coogler just gives us a slice of Grant’s life, his struggle with the choice of making a better life versus taking the easy way out of dealing drugs, which is what had gotten him in trouble in the first place.
It’s also a rare film because it made me think. I’ve been inundated with what the Black experience is through the media, that in some way I’ve forgotten that a lot of it is straight up bullshit. We forget that we are all human. We are all innately equal, that our names, our net worth, our titles, our gender, does not make any one of us more valuable as a human being, that being human makes us all equal. To think that what clothes us makes us more important as compared to others would put us in the same category as racists.
Now that doesn’t mean we have to be colorblind. That term never made sense to me. What makes us special is our differences, our individuality, making each and everyone one of us perfect in our own way. To try to follow one single ideal is like trying to say that one ethnic background is better than another. That is complete bullshit. I’ve tried to show this in my books, it’s a subplot that is buried deep in the characters’ perception of each other, hoping that somehow it’ll sink into the reader’s subconscious. But this is not FRUITVALE’s approach. It’s an in your face narrative without blaring it as such.