Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

Doctors and nurses hustle through the surgery tent. The charismatic doctors deliver deadpan one-liners while digging through the young men torn up by battle. A young man walks into this whirlwind of activity.

“Radar, put a mask on,” one of the doctors yells.

“I have a message,” the young man says, faltingly. “Col. Henry Potter’s plane…was shot down over the Sea of Japan, it spun and…there were no survivors…”

The doctors all fall quiet. Just the clank of scalpels dropping on metal trays.

 

From the Associated Press: Harry Morgan, who died Dec. 7 at age 96 after having pneumonia, was in the top ranks of actors who could take a small role, or a small scene, and bring it deftly alive. He added richness to any comedy or drama smart enough to call on him.

 

I always loved M*A*S*H and wanted to give Morgan a send-off that Henry Blake had.

Even as a kid, I liked how that show could go from goofy to serious and then back again. The seriousness made the goofiness that much more important and the goofiness made the serious parts all the more real.

What I Learned: If you want to balance comedy and drama, it starts with the characters. They have to be funny because they are reacting to the sad parts. The two feelings go hand in hand.

One thing I’m very aware of with “How I Met Your Mother” is the “thing.”

Every episode seems to have a subject matter that they talk about – doppelgangers, the Bro Code, The Threesome Belt. I feel ambivalent about it.

Take the Woo Girls for instance. The first time I ever saw this show, it was a few minutes of discussion between Robin and Lily about Robin being surprised her friend is a Woo Girl, and maybe she only celebrates the High Woo Girl Holidays. It was distracting. It was obvious. And it turned me off from the show.

Until my wife started Netflixing it. Now, watching it, I really enjoy the characters, and I even look for the “thing-of-the-week.” Although sometimes it could be more subtle, and it smacks of Puffy Shirts and Man Hands from Seinfeld, I’ve come to enjoy them.

The writers are smart. They know that people talk about TV shows in terms like this: “Hey, remember Slapsgiving!?” (Hell, I’m talking about it right now.)

What I Learned: Just as you have to have characters be distinct, the topics they talk about should be distinct as well. They can talk about things that are complex, but it’s so much better if it can be described by one word or a short phrase.

It seems everywhere you look, there’s a new token creeping into Hollywood and television. There will be a cast of lithe actors and actresses, and on the fringe of the group is the portly pal.

Yes, diversity in casting is sometimes a good thing. However, the real issue here is that there is only the one “fat friend.” Her weight, by the way, is a defining characteristic, much like I’ve written about with homosexuals

https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/homosexuality-as-a-character-trait/

Where is it true that a group of friends has just one heavy-set person? Why aren’t there average sized people?

I had often noticed that when you see a street scene in a movie, there is a remarkable number of thin people walking around in the background. They’re all actors – of course they’re thin. Ignore the fact that obesity is on the rise. But I really started thinking about this after seeing trailers for “Bridesmaids” with Melissa McCarthy (who’s excellent in Mike and Molly).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrRd2QSsGc4

I also read an interview with Blubberella actress Lindsay Hollister who was told once that she’s “too fat to play the fat friend.”

What I Learned: When writing a story with a large cast, make sure there are a healthy amount of people with average or larger builds. And don’t make their weight their defining characteristic.

Disclaimer/background: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t think people should break rules of storytelling unless there’s a good reason. I write comic books, short fiction and children’s books. Just to put my comments in perspective, these are my interests and favorites: My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I also like Justice League and Batman. My favorite comic writers lately have been Kurt Busiek, Peter David, and Geoff Johns. I am a huge Transformers fan. In children’s books, I go either simple or meta: either really simple stories or books about stories. In movies and books, I am more impressed with something small that makes me feel something rather than something I’m told is a “must-read” or a must-see.”

I make silly videos and post them here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

Looking at her face during American Idol, I imagined that without all the make-up she’d look just like Marilyn Manson without all the make-up.

She was an art student, reportedly, and it seems that she’s got a Warholian gift for transforming her performances into talking points.

But deep down, beneath the meat dresses and the music, she’s a nerd. She’s a student of art, and a student of how to draw attention to herself. She puts the same amount of work into creating her “Lady Gaga” character as I would creating a half-elf paladin.

What I Learned: Maybe the word calculating has too strong a negative connotation, but if I was writing a character based on that kind of a media-savvy performing/performance artist, I would make her a very calm, very focused thinker. The outlandish performance artist is an act, and it’s origin is an Annie Lennox-styled contemplation on how to reinvent yourself and how to challenge people’s perceptions.

PS: I really like the idea of her donating $1 million to charity, and having people choose where it goes.

Disclaimer/background: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t think people should break rules of storytelling unless there’s a good reason. I write comic books, short fiction and children’s books. Just to put my comments in perspective, these are my interests and favorites: My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I also like Justice League and Batman. My favorite comic writers lately have been Kurt Busiek, Peter David, and Geoff Johns. I am a huge Transformers fan. In children’s books, I go either simple or meta: either really simple stories or books about stories. In movies and books, I am more impressed with something small that makes me feel something rather than something I’m told is a “must-read” or a must-see.”

I make silly videos and post them here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

There was a group of people with obsessive compulsive disorder on the show “Truth Be Told: I Have OCD” on the Oprah Winfrey Network. My wife and I were watching as one woman explained her OCD stemmed from a religious fervor – all her habits were as an aversion to sin. Another woman pulled her hair out, starting at around the time of her parents’ divorce. A third started after his sixth concussion while playing high school football.

These are origin stories. Very rarely do we hear them. Usually we just see the end result, but have no idea why we are who we are. But these people spoke very clearly of the causes to their disorders.

It was such a straight road from adversity to disorder that if it had happened in fiction I wouldn’t have believed it.

Yes, truth is stranger. But with this illustration, it’s even more clear.

What I Learned: If I’m writing about a disorder, OCD or otherwise, I won’t (not shouldn’t…this is more of a personal decision than a ground rule) come up with a cause. They just are.

Even if there’s a statistic somewhere that says most OCD comes from a cause, I don’t believe the cause.

The story’s interior reality is more important than reality.

A similar post about psychosis having a clear cause: https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/origins-for-psychopaths/

Disclaimer/background: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t think people should break rules of storytelling unless there’s a good reason. I write comic books, short fiction and children’s books. Just to put my comments in perspective, these are my interests and favorites: My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I also like Justice League and Batman. My favorite comic writers lately have been Kurt Busiek, Peter David, and Geoff Johns. I am a huge Transformers fan. In children’s books, I go either simple or meta: either really simple stories or books about stories. In movies and books, I am more impressed with something small that makes me feel something rather than something I’m told is a “must-read” or a must-see.”

I make silly videos and post them here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

I also have OCD!

The Voice is “What I really want to do is direct” for musicians.

A bunch of famous singers take the producer role and make something out of nothing.

There’s an entertainment value to watching great singers perform. And there’s a thrill when each celebrity turns to check them out. And great sideways camera angles that get more than one celeb down the line.

What there needs to be is a competition for writers. Hundreds of quiet, socially awkward bibliophiles try uncomfortably to pitch books to publishers.

The technology of something doesn’t matter to me.

We were watching “Untraceable” last night. There was a scene in which Diane Lane explains how this website owner was keeping his site from being shut down. It was very elaborate. The person she was explaining this to said “I don’t understand a single word you said.”

Was it all gobbledygook? Or was there a science behind it? Probably somewhere in between. The writer knew enough about computers to propose something that made sense, but that a hacker would get annoyed by.

So is that the level of science we need to be writing at? Either you’re an expert or just don’t bother?

We should know enough about the subject that we’re not totally wrong, and that the majority of the audience wouldn’t know any better. There’s no way to do any better, unless we’re an expert at that particular realm of science. And we’re not scientists; we’re writers. At best, we should contact experts to get their takes on what we write.

I’m sure a NASA worker grew up watching movies about space, and now looks at some of his favorite movies as maybe a little trite. He probably can’t get excited about any new space movies coming out and hates it when he’s at a party and someone wants to talk to him about a new space movie.

In science fiction, there’s a distinct audience for “hard science fiction” or “sociological/soft science fiction.” One concerns itself on the science, the other more on the fiction.

Maybe some people who really like hard science just can’t suspend disbelief long enough.

Ray Bradbury wasn’t a rocket scientist, but he sent people to Mars. Isaac Asimov wasn’t a robotics expert.

I remember reading Michael Crichton’s “Timeline,” and there was a very detailed explanation of the quantum physics behind time travel. It seemed believable when I read it. This means that I was able to suspend disbelief. Immediately after the book was finished, I forgot everything because I just don’t have a technical mind.

I don’t care how they go back in time, I just want to know what happens when they get there. I don’t care how they get to Mars, clone a human, give someone superpowers, jump dimensions, hack a website…just tell me a good story after it happens.

I just need a short explanation of the “why.” In a way, it might as well be magic.

Disclaimer/background: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t think people should break rules of storytelling unless there’s a good reason. I write comic books, short fiction and children’s books. Just to put my comments in perspective, these are my interests and favorites: My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I also like Justice League and Batman. My favorite comic writers lately have been Kurt Busiek, Peter David, and Geoff Johns. I am a huge Transformers fan. In children’s books, I go either simple or meta: either really simple stories or books about stories. In movies and books, I am more impressed with something small that makes me feel something rather than something I’m told is a “must-read” or a must-see.”

I make silly videos and post them here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

The Goldfish Principle.

A goldfish will grow larger in a bigger tank. If you have a small tank, or a crowded tank, the goldfish somehow regulates its size. In a larger tank, it grows enough to spread out. It’s an obscure piece of trivia.

Actually, I’m not even sure it’s true, but it’s a good metaphor for time management. A project will take as much time as you let it.

Let’s say you give yourself a month to write a Green Lantern fanfic comic book, it will take you that entire month. Because in the back of your head, you keep thinking “I’ve got ’til the end of the month.”

But if you give yourself a week. And really stick to that deadline, then you WILL get that project done in a week.

The best thing about that: You have three more weeks that month to write something else. If you gave yourself an entire month, than you’d only have one finished project to show for at the end.

Obviously, your goal has to be realistic. You’re not going to be writing an entire screenplay in a month. (Not if you have real job, anyway.)

And before you worry about quality and doing a rush job, what I mean by this is to write the first draft of something. You can always go back. Or, if it’s a considerably long project, you can cut it up into smaller pieces and decide that completion of one of those pieces, say, the first chapter of a novel, counts as one. I got a bunch of comic books written by writing one scene a day. (The blog on this is here: https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/05/)

I’ve worked as a reporter for years. We have firm deadlines. Maybe that’s what helps.

Last year, I put myself on a budget of doing something every week. This meant I would do one of the following: Send work out to a publisher, upload a video to my YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge?feature=mhum), or do a considerable amount of work on a project. Considerable = finishing a story, comic book, or a large chapter of a book. I made a calendar and wrote down every finished project. I turned out to be something like 21 over by the end of the year. So not only did I reach my goal, but I got extra stuff done as well.

Therefore, I keep my goldfish small and manageable.

Here’s a link to a very funny YouTuber, Shyaporn Theerakulstit, of 500 Impressions (In 2 Minutes) fame. In it, he challenges people to work on something every week. I probably got the idea from him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViNF6_3fHfU&feature=channel

A lot of movies and shows seem to have a character with autism, or more specifically with Asperger syndrome, and the characters are all more or less the same.

In “Mary and Max,” Max turns out to have Asperger syndrome. All the charm, for me, slipped away from the character. He stopped being a quirky recluse with no social skills and instead became a textbook.

At the point it is mentioned that he had Asperger’s, it was no longer a story about Max. It was a story about Asperger’s syndrome. The condition became the character.

A commercial I saw advertised an episode of “Parenthood” with the boy asking about Asperger’s, because he was apparently just diagnosed. It felt like “A very special episode of…”

I never thought I’d blog about “Dear John” twice (Here’s the other one: https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/%E2%80%9Cdear-john%E2%80%9D-and-how-weakness-defines-character/), but at one point, John’s father is determined to have Asperger’s syndrome. My wife, a special ed teacher, had it nailed already, of course. Especially because they had already introduced a boy with autism earlier.

“Dear John” wasn’t about Asperger’s. That was just a subplot. “Rain Man” was definitely about autism. But “Rain Man” was based on a real person.

I think writers try so hard to paint these characters in a positive light, and be accurate, that they stop making them characters and just make them cut-outs. They have their little obsessions, which are interchangeable from character to character. And they have their odd way of looking at the world. In sad movies, they are constantly at odds with the way the world works. In reassuring movies, they look at the world through the eyes of a wise and noble child.

Writers have two audiences in mind. The first is someone who knows someone with autism. These people they are trying not to offend. The other are people who don’t know anyone with autism. I think the writers are trying to educate these people.

These are all good goals, but they don’t really make for good storytelling.

Here’s a thought I’ve had before and I’ve got to say it again: The only way to make movies inclusive of people who are different is to make the movie not about the difference. If the whole movie is about a character with autism, you’re not building bridges. They are still the “other.” Studied. Under glass. If you want to show autism as a part of life, show an autistic family member in the movie, but don’t have the whole movie be about that.

I have a comic book super hero whose brother is autistic. Will that fact be the center of stories at some point? Undoubtedly. However, until then, he’s just Jake’s older brother Ronnie, who likes to play video games with him and keeps his mom on her toes.

Inexperienced writers are blamed with having all the worst parts of their craft. But professional writers-the most famous are sometimes the worst-need to be reined in from time to time.

I don’t want to name names. It’s unprofessional. And what I think of as terrible might be wonderful to someone else.

But there have been novels I’ve read that have gone on for page about unnecessary details. It’s all very wonderful that you have the history of this town worked out. In it’s own way, it’s interesting. But in the context of the story, it’s just taking away from the plot.