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Storytelling – The Second Definition

February 24, 2015 2 comments

I’ve been talking through four different versions of storytelling structure – all basically the same, but with some differences that help me to look at my stories with a couple of different focuses. Here’s the first post with all four definitions, and here’s me digging into the first definition.

bob reiserThe next version of storytelling is one I really like a lot. I learned the basics of it from a storyteller named Bob Reiser (whose website is here www.bobtales.com) at a storytelling workshop. He’s an great storyteller and fantastic teacher – you should check out the website. Again, this structure formula is simple, but the genius is in how you implement it. Taking it point by point:

  • Meet Dave (why should we like him?)

This is sometimes another sticking point for people. There’s a book called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s often derided as being a simplistic way to tell simplistic unoriginal stories, which I’m sure it could be. Any storytelling method can lead to telling simplistic unoriginal stories. I happen to like the book.

One of the things that Snyder suggests is that early on your main character should “save a cat.” Not literally, but that your character should do something that puts the audience on their side. It’s not difficult to imagine how this could lead to an unimaginative cute-sy beginning to a story, but that’s not what Snyder really means. What he means (I think) is that if your audience is going to spend time with your character, there has to be some reason we want to watch them. They have to endear themselves to us somehow.

There are a billion examples of this idea, where a character who is unlikable, who I would never want to be in a room with, is in some way interesting – and that’s the point. I don’t have to like Dave in that I want to be his roommate. But I do have to like to watch him.

House is a great example of this – a thoroughly unlikeable character who I couldn’t stop watching. He’s fascinating because he’s so clever, and so wonderfully rude. I don’t want to hang out, but I want to watch.

  • What does Dave want? Why?

house-m-d-wallpaper-3What’s Dave’s goal? And (equally, maybe more important) why does he want that? This is the idea of making your character’s personality an intrinsic part of what they want. House wants to solve puzzles – because he’s obsessively curious. His personality is completely a part of his goal. Take House out of any episode and replace him with generic doctor, and you have a lousy episode of House.

Another example: Indiana Jones. What’s he want – the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Why – because “it should be in a museum!” Who he is defines his goal.

  • What’s at Stake?

There’s another reason Jones wants the Ark – personally, he wants it in a museum, and those are fine stakes. But oh, yeah… if he doesn’t get it the Nazi’s will take over the world. Not a bad set of stakes. By the way – there’s a transcript of Spielberg, Lucas and Larry Kasdan (the screenwriter) spitballing ideas that became Raiders. It’s awesome and is on the internet here.

What’s at stake for House? For him, it’s solving the puzzle. And part of what makes him fascinating is that that’s all that’s at stake. That someone’s life hangs in the balance doesn’t really matter to him, but it does to us, and raises the stakes to his personal goal.

Often, your best, most audience-involving stakes are both internal, personal stakes (“this should be in a museum!”) and external, larger stakes (Nazi’s take over the world).

  • What stands in his way?
  • What does he do to get it?
  • What stands in his way?
  • How does he overcome?

This is your standard storytelling “rinse and repeat.” What’s the character do, actively, to try to achieve their goal, and what’s the conflict? Every scene should be about Dave trying to work towards his goal, and what stands in his way, over and over in different ways, until he finally overcomes and gets his goal. EVERY scene.

  • What’s different?

And finally, what’s different? When you’re character achieves their goal, what’s different? Every romantic comedy ends with 1) a kiss or 2) holding hands or 3) a wedding. It depends on how deep into the relationship the story gets. But really, they probably achieved the goal just before, but this scene is their and our reward. We want a chance to enjoy the result of the struggle, to revel in it for a moment. “What’s different?” is something my students often miss – they got the bad guy, the story’s over, right? No, they need to enjoy their success, just for a moment. So we can too.

We’ll dig into the next definition in the next post.

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Why 3D film is not the next “Talkie”

November 17, 2011 Comments off

Let me preface – this is not to say that 3D films are not the next generation of film. They might be. I’m skeptical, but they might be.

But 3D is not the next wave the way sound films were the next wave after silent films. How do I know? Because “The Jazz Singer” was released in 1927, and by 1930 90% of the films released were “Talkies.” That meant that as the Great Depression was beginning, theatres were investing in audio equipment – that’s how important sound was to the movies. Sound is such an integral part of film, it’s really hard to imagine anyone releasing an actually silent film. And 3 years into sound, it was hard to imagine as well.

Let’s talk about 3D. The first major 3D films were in 50’s of course, with resurgences every 30 years. 50’s, 80’s, and now, but let’s pretend those earlier times didn’t really happen, because the tech was different. I can’t see old color based 3D systems very well (I assume being color blind has something to do with it), and even without my issues, they were not fantastic.  The new systems are obviously better in many ways. And I’m going to ignore the glasses and pretend like everyone loves going to the movies and putting stuff on their face.

But Avatar was released in Dec 2009. Bolt (an early popular 3D film) was in 2008 and the real first films in this wave were released in 2006-2007. This is November 2011. Again, sound was so critical to the enjoyment of film that in three years, almost all films were sound films, and all theatres were converted. 3D is an interesting new way to experience films. It is obviously not a necessary component, because audiences are not flocking to it. They did at first, and they did when the film was good and used 3D intelligently (like Avatar – please keep your opinions about whether it was good or not to yourself…), but just the 3D itself is not a draw.

So what’s happening? Obviously part of the problem, like in the 50’s and 80’s, is bad product. Bad films in 3D, and bad conversions to 3D are not helping the form. I don’t know if they’ll be the death knell – I doubt it. There will be more good 3D films, and people will go see those, and that’ll lead to more 3D films. Hopefully more good ones, though that’s hard to bank on.

A lot of people have to change their opinions about a lot of things for 3D to really take over the form. Obviously, audiences don’t see 3D as being worth the extra money unless there’s something really special in the film that makes it “3D worthy” (which really means worth an extra $4).

But I’m also curious how people feel about eye fatigue. When you watch a regular film, it’s set on one plane, and your eye relaxes into a single focus. When you watch a 3D film, you’re focusing all over the place and that’s tiring. While yes, it’s what my eye does all day long, I don’t know that that’s a real argument. With scripts, I don’t want stories about what I do all day long, either. I suspect there’s an unknown quality that is the eye rest I get from focusing on a screen for an entire movie.

As filmmakers get better with the form, and editors understand where they eye is focused, the rough transitions in eye focusing will get smoother, but it’s still a different experience, and again, I suspect there’s something tiring about it that doesn’t occur during a normal film.

But really, here’s what 3D is all about: money. Shocking, I know. But not in just the way you’re probably thinking. Theatres feel justified to charge more for 3D films, and that makes a little more money at the box office, but that’s not the real reason for the charge.

The real reason for 3D is because 3D projectors are digital. It costs studios ENORMOUS amounts of money to show movies on 35mm film prints. First, there’s the duplication costs, which have risen exponentially over that last 20 years. In olden days, a film would get released in a number of big theatres, then gradually roll out of those theatres into smaller ones. Or, if demand continued, more prints would get made to supply that need, but only after you saw that the film was successful. But now, films depend on being in as many theatres as possible opening weekend. That thousands of prints, one for every theatre screening the film, and that’s expensive, both to make and to ship.

With digital, there’s no need to make a print, and if theatres are equipped to download the film, not even any shipping costs. Even if you are shipping a hard drive, that’s still nothing compared to heavy film rolls. That’s a LOT of money saved, for EVERY SINGLE FILM released, every weekend. The savings just keep coming. But if theatres weren’t going digital (which a lot of them hadn’t, yet) then studios couldn’t save that money. Something had to force the theatres to get digital projection, and 3D was the cause. Studios might have believed the hype of 3D, but they still oversold it because they wanted theatres to be get digital delivery and save the massive costs of distribution.

Again, 3D films may stick around, I’m curious to see. But they are not the evolutionary step that audio was. Sound was an integral part of the experience and once audiences saw it (even in The Jazz Singer, which was only partially with sound), they HAD to have it in every film. Hell, many of the first motion film cameras were designed to include sound, they just couldn’t make the tech work, so they released just the picture side of it.

3D may end up being color, which was a nice addition to film, but took 20 years to really take over the industry. The earliest color releases were in 1934, and it wasn’t until the 50’s that they really took hold. Many, many people HATED color when it first began (it’s show-y and vulgar, it distracts from the story, the eye gets tired from so much information, black and white is fine for most people, etc – any of that sound familiar?), but eventually, people came around. 3D may just be something that we have to get used to – both audiences and filmmakers, in how to use it and how to watch it.

Of course, getting rid of the stupid glasses would help…

 

228 Days till Production Begins

November 15, 2011 2 comments

Just sent the latest version of the Sympathy Pains script, all 116 pages of it, to my lead actor and department heads (Hi, Scott! – I have so few readers, I know them by name!). This is the first time everyone will be reading the full script.

Man, is that a difficult thing to do – to put it out there as if it’s something anyone would want to read. There’s this weird thrill/dread that accompanies hitting the “send” button. I’m excited for people to see it – I think there’s a lot of good stuff in there, but there’s also the ridiculous fear of “what if it just flat out sucks?” I just sent everyone that I’m asking to give me months of their time something that they may completely hate.

At the moment, the thrill part is winning, and this is fun. Maybe I’ll post again when the dread kicks back in.

I sent the script at about 4pm, it’s 8pm now, and I’ve already made the first small change…

Final Cut Pro X isn’t for us.

November 9, 2011 1 comment

Disclaimers: I have no inside information, I just like to watch how businesses work and figure out where they’re going. And there’s a great example with Apple right now. I may be 100% wrong, but I don’t think so. Here’s my uninformed two cents on Final Cut Pro X. It’s not for us.

FCP X sounds like it’s a great program. People who like it seem to really really like it. It’s super fast, easy to learn, does some wonderful things, and it’s not for us.

By us, I mean anyone who isn’t a one-man-band, and works with a team. Multiple editors, separate sound designers, colorists, etc. Filmmaking teams. It’s not for us.

And that’s OK. Final Cut 2 wasn’t for us, either. But I don’t think Final Cut XI or even XV will be for us either. I don’t think we’re the business model anymore.

Here’s my take. Go back 10 years ago. Apple was not the company they are now. They were that other desktop computer company that wasn’t Windows. They needed to sell a lot of very expensive computers, and they could do that by targeting the niche market of arts businesses. Need to do photo manipulation? Get a Mac. Need to do page layout? Get a Mac? Need to do video? Get a Mac. And they were great at that.

But times are different. We don’t matter to Apple anymore. iOS is now 70% of Apple’s revenue, and I guarantee you that the other 30% of Apple is well aware of that. How could they not be? I assume it’s on an iPad screen tacked above everyone’s workstation. Everyone who doesn’t work on iOS, I mean.

Final Cut Studio was a niche product. It was a GREAT, very professional suite of software, and probably sold a lot of units, which in turn sold a lot of hardware. And Apple kept it going for a long time. But 64-bit hardware needed 64-bit software, so Final Cut needed to get re-written. I’m sure you’ve already heard that. And a lot of people say that Apple rushed Final Cut Pro X to the market. Why would they do that? Who were they looking to keep around that wasn’t happy with Final Cut Studio? Were they looking at mass defections based on their old software? It’s very possible that those rumblings were out there and I wasn’t aware of them.  I do tend to miss all sorts of rumblings…

But I don’t think FCP X was rushed at all. I think it’s exactly the program Apple meant to publish. It’s not for us. It seems to be a great project for the one-man-band video editor, and the hobbyist. Think about how large that market is, compared to professional video editors. The base of people who want an editing program is HUGE nowadays, and a lot of people are rubbing up against the edge of iMovie, looking to do something a little bigger. The people who need a video editor that can work in a studio environment is very small. You can make a lot more money selling $99 software to EVERYONE than $999 software to a few houses. That’s the iOS software model, isn’t it? Final Cut Pro X isn’t for us.

They did add XML exports recently, which suggests they’re looking to give us what the tools we need, but not really. XML export, I gotta figure, is easy. Rewrite the data to make it conform to a different standard, what are computers better at than that? But it’s not XML that can transfer into Premiere or other programs, it’s an FCP X-specific XML that 3rd party developers can use to make their programs add on to FCP and add functions that resemble what FCP used to be able to do. That’s very very different. So now I need to get other software, from other, smaller, less stable companies, to do what FCP used to do natively. That doesn’t seem like it saves me time. It seems like a workaround that I do when I need an amateur program to do something professional.

It’s a shame, because we made Final Cut cool. The reason people want to use it is because so many of us making bigger projects were using FCP. It’s hip. And now that they don’t need us to impress the cool kids anymore, we’re left without our program.

You know who doesn’t screw with professional editors? Avid. You know why? They may have lousy customer service (I hear it’s improved since I’ve been an FCP guy), but they make sure the product can do what film businesses need it to do, because that’s where they make their money. We’re their customer base, and we will be for a long time.

Again, iOS is 70% of Apple. I don’t know how much of Apple’s profits came from FCP, but I’m sure it’s next to nothing in the grand scheme. The iOS model makes a lot of sense. The niche market doesn’t anymore, because Apple is no longer niche. Why would anyone assume that a ground up rebuild of FCP would be for anyone other than everyone? That doesn’t make business sense. It’s not for us.

Which is a shame – I left Avid a number of years ago and hadn’t planned on going back, but at the moment that looks like where I’m headed. Because it’s meant for us.

Categories: JoeRants Tags: , ,

Shooting on film might actually be fun

November 6, 2011 3 comments

I’m the first person to scream in happiness about the erosion of actual film from the “filmmaking” process. As an editor, I had plenty of horrible times dealing with all the problems shooting on film and editing on computers (I’m looking at you keycode and telecine!). With high quality video those problems, while not gone, are infinitely more manageable.

But this $80 35mm film camera might make me rethink my stance. The LomoKino shoots on standard 35mm still camera film rolls – 144 frames at a time, shooting at 3-5 fps. Here’s the website.

It’s handcranked, and very very widescreen. That’s how it fits so many frames per roll, because it’s such a short image on the filmstrip.

After you shoot, you can play back on the (included in the $80) LomoKinoscope viewer. It’s like a viewmaster in that you point it towards a light source and look through the viewer. How cool is that?

Here’s a video of some stuff shot with it.

Teaser Trailer from Lomography on Vimeo.

Again, how cool is that?

Categories: Cool Links, JoeRants Tags: , , ,

It’s just a-polling (get it…?)

October 28, 2011 Comments off

One of my regular blogs (Mark Evanier’s newsfromme.com) mentioned talking with a pollster on the phone today, and got me thinking about polls and why I don’t believe them. First of all, they’re so often wrong. The polls tell you that the election will go this way, and then it doesn’t go that way.  Shocking.

Of course, we want to believe polls can be correct, and I’ve taken statistics, so I understand the basic math and how it should work, but there’s a key thing that polls never seem to take into account.

When a pollster calls and wants to ask you questions, do you speak to them? I don’t.

Of course, it’s possible that I’m abnormal (ask my wife…), but I’m willing to believe that I’m not. I’m busy and I don’t have respect for polls anyway, so I don’t bother to answer them.

I have to imagine that there’s a lot of people like me, people with better things to do than answer polls. Which means that there an entire demographic of people who aren’t included in poll data – the busy. Dare I even be full of myself and say the hardworking, somewhat intelligent?

Now imagine all the stupid poll results that you see that suggest, for instance, that Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann are viable candidates for president. Now picture those polls with a line under their title “* hardworking/busy/somewhat intelligent people not included amongst those polled.” Suddenly, many poll results make a lot more sense, don’t they?

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