Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Adapting Snow White

The Concept: Getting back to basics and giving the anagram thing a rest. (Also, avoiding original plot summaries for a while.) However, these still count as bad film ideas.
Previous Fairy Tale Adaptations: Little Red Riding Hood

The Fairy Tale: Snow White
Key Elements: evil queen (villain), innocent girl (victim), stupidity (catalyst), red apple (conspicuous bit of symbolism), lonely cottage in the woods (danger zone), prince (hero)

Title: Wicked Stepmother
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Main Alteration: reversal of protagonist with antagonist
Plot Summary: Evelyn Quinn has a bad feeling about her teenage stepdaughter Bianca. She’s not quite sure what it is – Bianca is so sweet and polite, and she’s simply adorable with Roy, her father. But slowly Evelyn starts to realize that Bianca is not only doing everything she can to separate her from her new husband but also everything she can to make her go stark raving mad. From subtle hints that she’s losing her looks to sitting in Roy’s lap and purring like a kitten, Bianca brings Evelyn to contemplate suicide. And Bianca’s seven crazy cats seem to watch her wherever she goes! How will Evelyn survive?
Memorable Quote/Scene:
Bianca: Daaaaaaaaddy... [giggle]

Title: The Fairest of Them All
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Main Alteration: no clear protagonist or antagonist
Plot Summary: Eve, the former Evergreen Springs Beauty Queen (for five consecutive years until she wasn’t allowed to compete anymore because it wasn’t fair to the other town girls), doesn’t get along with her teenage stepdaughter. But what can you expect from a girl who’s silly mother (may she rest in peace) named her Snowflake. That would be a curse for any girl, much less a girl as frumpy and odd as Snowflake. But no matter – when Eve took Howard for better or for worse, she also took his daughter, and she’s on a mission to make the worse into better. Much better. What luck! There’ a local beauty pageant. What could be better than that to help boost Snowflake’s self-esteem and give them an opportunity to bond? Snowflake has other plans, however. Will the two women bond? Or will this be a nightmare that ends in hatred and despair?
Memorable Quote/Scene:
[Snowflake has to go before the seven try-out judges]
Eve: And pleeaase try to show some personality.
Snowflake: I was showing personality.
Eve: Without stomping down the runway like a sulky buffalo.

Stuck in Development: Something from one of the dwarves’ point of view, or maybe the magic mirror’s point of view.

Monday, July 28, 2008


a western went and
shot itself right into space
well ain't that shiny

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The first one was better.

Remakes, sequels, series – what do they have in common? They start with a source and then build on it. Remakes usually take the first versions and attempt to “fix” them or re-imagine them. Sequels continue the plot or take the same characters and start a new one. Series can actually be a combination of both sequel and remake. This is common with TV shows: the first season is fresh, if not totally in its stride; the second season harnesses the momentum of the first and makes the show better; and so on with the third and the fourth; around the fifth or sixth, things start to get stale (or are already so stale the only thing left to do is make toast), thus the next season devotes itself to going back to the earlier seasons, finding the best parts of the show and then reinventing them.

Personally, I think seven seasons is enough for any show – especially shows that have 22 episodes per season – whether the episode is a half hour or an hour long. (In Britain seasons are usually 6-9 episodes, and some day I’m going to ask someone why that is, but I still think the rule applies.) There are exceptions, particularly when episodes have little thematic or sequential relation to each other, but even in these cases, the format itself can become dull. It’s a rare show that can go on and on without fluctuations in quality or concept. The same goes for remakes or sequels.

It’s easy for a series to get stale because you have to keep generating conflicts in order to maintain interest in the story. Once one conflict is resolved or a relationship has reached its peak, there is an inevitable decline. Another conflict takes its place and we begin again, but since most of the characters are still the same, relationships become “incestuous.” Meaning, best friends and siblings swap partners like toys, and characters that have no reason to get together aside from their being around each other physically, miraculously discover their undying love for each other. In terms of personality, characters make complete reversals or turn into caricatures of themselves.

These things are not impossible, but given the frequency in which they occur, they stretch credibility. Character development becomes artificial, dictated by plot necessity, rather than psychological complexity. A good way to avoid all this is to bring in new characters and phase out others. You don’t have to kill them off or anything, but let them run their course and find a plausible exit for them. You can always bring them back. Otherwise you end up juggling too many characters and too many storylines.

Obviously, there are all kinds of variables you can’t control: the acting, for one. But as I’ve said before, your job isn’t to worry about production. You will probably have little or no say in it anyway. Make sure the writing is the best it can possibly be. It seems I’ve strayed a little too far into screenwriting and totally neglected book-writing, but books can be plagued by the same flaws. In a way, it’s worse when a book sequel goes astray, because then the author is fully to blame – you can’t fault it to bad production.

A few other tips:

Foresight and flexibility. Develop long-term plotlines/ideas in advance; keep a rough time trajectory in mind; always remember where, how, and why you started. This should prevent you from getting lost along the way and help you preserve narrative coherence.

Establishing independence. If the sequels are contingent, find a good way to get through the exposition, including relevant details from the previous film/book. Don’t assume everyone has seen/read the first one or even knows there’s a first one to begin with. The work should be able to stand on its own, even if the previous one ended in a type of cliffhanger.

Working backwards. Or, making sure that when you watch/read everything from the beginning, the plot twists still work, and, let’s say, certain characters aren’t unintentionally attracted to their sisters.

Funny numbers. Nail down the little details, especially statistics like character ages, birthdays, and addresses to prevent those annoying continuity errors.

Unnecessary isolation. This is especially pertinent to remakes – you often read that writers/directors avoid watching the original versions in order to give a fresh interpretation. While I technically agree that it’s good to give your own interpretation top priority, at some point you have to expose yourself what’s already been done. If anything, it can help you avoid making the same mistakes and clarify your own concept even further.

Next time on Technical Saturday... turning books into movies – some thoughts on adaptation.

Friday, July 25, 2008


all shapes and sizes
from slightly funny to sad
found everywhere

Monday, July 21, 2008


how'd they put you there?
"by magic" is too easy
damn you, mystery

Friday, July 18, 2008

Noah's Ark

animals in pairs
(mind the giraffes don't get squashed)
marching two by two

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Adapting Little Red Riding Hood

The Concept: Getting back to basics and giving the anagram thing a rest. (Also, avoiding original plot summaries for a while.) However, these still count as bad film ideas.
The Fairy Tale: Little Red Riding Hood
Key Elements: wolf (villain), innocent girl (intended victim), grandmother (catalyst), red riding hood (conspicuous bit of symbolism), woods (danger zone), woodsman (hero)

Title: Across the Street
Genre: Drama
Main Alteration: gender reversal of protagonist and antagonist
Plot Summary: Charlie is a good suburban boy, just turned sixteen. He mows the lawn, takes out the garbage, and always does his homework. But when his grandmother dies, his family rents her old house to an attractive woman named Rosalyn. Charlie is instantly smitten and naively convinced that Rosalyn could never be interested, given that she’s fifteen years older. But one rainy day when he comes over to pick up the last of his grandmother’s things, he finds that Rosalyn is a very friendly neighbor. Too friendly. Is this the relationship of his dreams or is he in over his head?
Memorable Quote/Scene: When Charlie comes to pick up his grandmother’s things, he finds Rosalyn wearing his grandmother’s mink coat – and nothing else. Talk about psychological damage...

Title: Red Stitches
Genre: Dark Comedy
Main Alteration: reversal of protagonist and antagonist
Plot Summary: A famous fashion designer nicknamed “Le Loup” (the wolf) takes on a promising young designer named Madeleine. They work well together at first, but when Le Loup’s protégé creates a red jacket which becomes the hit of the fall fashion season, tension arises, and soon it’s an all-out competition to prove who is the greater fashion visionary!
Memorable Quote/Scene:
Le Loup’s Assistant:
With all those red jackets we’ve sold, Fifth Avenue looks like a communist parade ground.”

Customer: [raving about the new jacket] It’s magnificent. Red is so seductive, so passionate – the color of ripe cherries and fire.
Le Loup: [looking at Madeleine] It’s also the color of blood.

Stuck in Development: A version from the woodsman’s point of view.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I'm sure there's a point
among the androids and dust
but I'm not sure where

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Slicing, Dicing, Deleting, and Rewriting

Before you start a serious editing session, the first thing you need is distance. As I’ve said on other occasions, it helps to “forget” your manuscript for a while in order to approach it with fresh eyes, so try to wait a couple of weeks. Other than that, I think it’s important to undergo a serious editing process before you show the draft to someone else. Usually, what happens is that the mere idea of someone reading your work and forming an opinion magically reveals flaws or spurs you to make changes. Then by the time they’re ready to comment, the remarks are already irrelevant.

That’s not to say that you can’t show someone a fragment or ask them what they think about the concept, but if we’re talking about a substantial draft, wait until you’ve gone over it and feel comfortable. If you’re suffering from Writer’s Block – as in you’re stuck or you’re not even sure what’s wrong and you’d like a second opinion – try talking it out first. Try to explain what’s irking you and that in itself can help solve the problem without the other person having to read.

Another pair of eyes can be a blessing or a curse; it’s far better to approach someone else when you feel confident. If you’re not confident, the criticism may crush you rather than help you. You don’t have to accept their opinion, and if you’re not feeling confident, you might not be able to defend your manuscript where it should be defended. Someone thinking differently does not necessarily make them right. Likewise, being emotionally ready to discuss the manuscript will also help you accept criticism where it’s due. When you think you’ve done a bad job, you’re likely to feel defeated by every comment. If you’re over-confident, it’s difficult (even impossible) to see flaws or accept criticism. It’s best to be somewhere in the middle – to feel good about what’s there, but to be ready for the good as well as the bad.

But enough with the motivational speech... Some Leading Questions to Help You Edit and Why You’re Asking Them to Begin with:

What is this about? Literally, what are the themes? Not that it has to be something like “The plight of living in the 21st century and how to survive with a broken heart and no money or friends.” Try to think what motivated you to write this particular story.

Can you write a brief summary which includes the main events of the plot and subplots? Brought to you by the Department for Defining What the Heck is Going on Here. This should help you focus on the way the plot is constructed, isolate missing links in the sequence of events, establish how the plot and subplots relate to each other, etc.

What are the strong points? What are the weak ones? Think on two different levels – not only the story or characters, but the writing itself, the language you use.

Which is your favorite part? Your least favorite? Again, think on both levels. Don’t just go by an instinctive gut reaction – try to put it into words.

How’s the pacing – fast, medium, slow? Not because one or the other is good or bad, just as long as you can define the rhythm of your storytelling. If you can’t, why not? There may be a perfectly legitimate creative reason for not having a specific rhythm. The important thing is to fully grasp the way you’ve constructed the narrative.

There are an infinite number of questions you can ask, but those were a few general ones to help you get started. It can be overwhelming to face a list of a hundred or even a dozen questions, but those five are friendly enough I think. And a few other general tips:

Error messages. When you change something, you have to examine how it affects everything else. Continuity errors, lack of information (in terms of character and plot), lack of character motivation, etc., are typical problems which occur after massive rewrites. Never forget that everything may be obvious to you, but not to everyone else. Always make sure everything works backwards.

Handling Change, Part I. Don’t be afraid of big changes, like massive rewrites. Though you may have become attached to particular lines, scenes, or characters, sometimes you need to give them up for a better concept. You can always change your mind again and go back.

Handling Change, Part II. Keep in mind that the way you’re feeling can affect the way you edit. More than that, the way you may feel about the story or characters may change over time, and that might make it difficult to do a steady editing job. Try to remain focused on the manuscript, and keep it independent of your current moods and interests.

Running Commentary. You don’t have to limit yourself to crossing out words or adding them; adding your spontaneous thoughts can be a big help. If I can’t think of the specific word I want, I usually leave the approximate word or phrase in brackets, which reminds me to pay special attention to that point when I go back later. I also use brackets for comments like: [you need to describe something or other here], [scene is needed], [research this point], [dialogue needs to be reworked], my favorite – [are you kidding?], and so on.

Good old-fashioned editing. Sometimes it’s even helpful to print out a draft and edit it with a pen. Though this can be cumbersome for a long draft – then you have to type in all of the changes – it’s good to get away from the screen. Besides, the keyboard can be too convenient. Marking the changes with a pen gives you the opportunity to rethink them when you edit the computer document.

Next time on Technical Saturday... Remakes, Sequels, and Series.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Three Word Haiku


Monday, July 7, 2008

Business Tactics VI

This space NOT for rent.
Seriously, it isn't.
... you'll give me HOW much?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

time for fireworks
is my hot dog ready yet?
O say can you see...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Adapting Shakespeare, Part IV

The Concept: name of Shakespeare’s play + Anagram Server = bad movie idea
Previous Shakespearean Adaptations: The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Play: Much Ado About Nothing
Original Genre: Comedy
The Incredibly Brief Summary of Original: Messina, approximately 1600. Leonato is a wealthy gentleman with a beautiful, modest daughter named Hero. He also has a beautiful, outspoken niece named Beatrice. Lucky for them, Don Pedro of Aragon, fresh from victory at war with... someone or other... drops in for a visit, bringing his two favorite courtiers, Claudio, the handsome and pretty stupid, and Benedick, the even handsomer and very witty. Also tagging along is Don Pedro’s bastard brother John and his two evil sidekicks, Borachio and Conrad.

Claudio and Hero fall for each other at first sight. Don Pedro arranges their marriage. There is much rejoicing at their betrothal, except on Don John’s part because he is also a bastard in the more modern sense of the word. With Borachio’s help, he conspires to split the couple apart. Meanwhile, Benedick and Beatrice are old acquaintances, who not only hate each other’s guts but each have an aversion to matrimony. What are their loyal friends to do but trick them into falling in love?

The night before Claudio and Hero’s wedding, Don John tricks Don Pedro and Claudio into thinking they saw Hero consorting with another man. This is of course the worst thing Hero could possibly do to Claudio and, manly man that he is, humiliates her the next day at the wedding. Instead of saying, “I do,” he calls her a lying whore right in front of everyone and then goes off to crack jokes with Don Pedro. Hero faints in utter dismay and Leonato wishes both he and she were dead to avoid the disgrace. Luckily Benedick and a Friar are on hand, and they don’t think Hero is a lying whore, but rather think there’s some misunderstanding. The Friar advises Hero to play dead while everything is sorted out.

Meanwhile, Beatrice asks Benedick to prove his love and devotion by killing Claudio in a duel. Faithful lover that he is, he goes to challenge him. Claudio is somewhat irked by this. But they never actually duel, because as luck would have it, Boarchio was bragging to Conrad about the trick he and Don John played on Claudio within hearing of the local constables. Though they may be bumbling fools, they apprehend Borachio and Conrad, then extract a confession from them regarding Hero’s innocence. Which they of course bring before Don Pedro and Claudio. Who then of course feel miserable and go apologize to Leonato. Who then of course says Claudio should say the eulogy at Hero’s funeral as penance and then marry another niece of his who happens to look a lot like Hero.

The funeral is carried out, and then Claudio goes to marry the mysterious niece. When she unveils herself, all is revealed to the stunned Claudio – and there’s some metaphoric business about the old Hero having died of slander but this new one’s been reborn. Or whatever. But all’s well and they marry happily. By now Benedick and Beatrice have found out that they were tricked into falling in love, but it’s not so bad since they seem to have loved each other all along. As for Don John, who fled conveniently after disgracing Hero, he is caught and has the promise of being tortured. And everyone exits dancing (really). The end.

Title: Handbag Mooch, Ion Tutu
Genre: Comedy
Plot Summary: Jenny Hero is always borrowing her cousin Beatrice’s clothing, especially her vintage handbags. No matter how Beatrice tries to resist, Jenny always talks her into lending something. At the same time but in a different place, Dr. Bruce Benedict and his assistant, Dr. Claude Claude, have invented something which will change the world forever: ion-based fabric. That’s right – it’s lighter than air, silkier than silk, and stronger than steel. On the eve of selling it to the government for a fortune, Dr. Benedict realizes that they to construct a combat suit in order to sell the idea. But poor Dr. Benedict falls asleep from exhaustion and Dr. Claude’s penchant for ballet causes him to do something a little different with the amazing fabric. The next day, General Leon Hero, accompanied by his military aides and daughter Jenny, come to see the high-tech… tutu. Which Dr. Benedict presents with an embarrassed expression as Dr. Claude looks on through broken glasses and a black eye. Luckily for them, Jenny loves the tutu. The deal is sealed and all is almost well. Beatrice, you see, furious with Jenny for having ruined her favorite handbag, decides to borrow the tutu and do some accidental damage. What she doesn’t know is the tutu is virtually indestructible. Wearing it to a charity gala (who would suspect that the nation’s hottest secret weapon is a tutu?), Beatrice runs into Dr. Benedict. Livid, he wants to know where she got it and after some comical misunderstanding, Beatrice is enlightened as to the tutu’s true nature and enlists the doctor’s help for a little creative vengeance…

Title: Mood: Out Abating Hunch
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Plot Summary: Bettie and Ben really can’t stand each other. Which is mainly why they spend so much time chatting online, insulting each other with wit and feeling. However, their respective best friends, Hera and Clyde, are sick of their bickering and decide to set them up. Each masquerading as their best friend, they do a fine job of convincing Bettie and Ben that they’re in love. Only now there’s a new problem: Bettie and Ben are always together. They don’t even have time to chat with their best friends. So now the devious duo decides to split up the darling duo. Will Hera and Clyde succeed? Are Bettie and Ben just putting on a show to get back at their meddling friends?

Title: Thou Tough Badman Icon
Genre: Action
Plot Summary: Bill “The Monk” Benedict isn’t much of a talker. An expert hitman, he takes out who he’s paid to and doesn’t ask questions. Until he has to take out one: Belle Hero, and two: her cousin, Halle Hero. But before he can ask any questions, every hitman he knows, including Donald “Duck” Peters, Claude “The Frenchman” de la Coeur, and a few he doesn’t – John the Bastard and Conrad the Cat – are after Belle and Halle. They seem perfectly innocent, harmless. Duck and The Frenchman are willing to team up to protect them, but the Bastard and the Cat reveal that innocent the Hero girls may be, but harmless they are not. What is their secret? Can the Bastard and the Cat be trusted? Is the Monk losing his edge?
Possible Sequels: Badman Cough Thou Into; Ooh Outgun Badman Itch (making The Badman Trilogy)

Stuck in Development:

Handbag Mooch Unit Out – I’m not sure Handbag Mooch, Ion Tutu deserves a sequel.

Couch on Mound Habitat – I drew a total blank. Maybe it could be twisted into something sci-fi.