Messy People

I finished watching Seven Seconds on Netflix. I Netflixed and chilled by myself, which is pretty sad. And messy. That's one of the things I loved about Seven Seconds. It's very messy. Napkin please. For my tears.

Veena Sud is the series creator and is known from her series The Killing. The Killing was amazing because of the mood it creates. It doesn't resort to bloody grotesque images to shock the viewers because that isn't the goal. The surprising realization for me was that most of the show followed the two lead detectives who were tasked to solve Rosie's murder. Well...duh. Stay with me.

The reason I was surprised was that I felt this sense of dread and darkness throughout the whole series. This came when the rest of the onscreen time was spent focused on the mother and father's reaction to this unimaginable hole that murder leaves. Powerful storytelling. But what punched me in the gut emotionally was how messy their relationship was with their daughter and with each other before Rosie was murdered. This creates complexities because the parents can't resolve old wounds with their dead daughter. So the question becomes can they heal from their albatrosses? Can they heal their relationship with each other?

So why not aim the cameras solely on the victim's friends and family? Wouldn't that make it more powerful? More engaging? Short answer, no.


Too much darkness and dread can be too intense. Most viewers would be put off by this. Pretty quickly too. Which is why the show centers around the detectives. And the fact that the show asked "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" gave the audience a mystery to solve, something for their minds to chew on.

Whew! All this is to say that more often than not we see characters, especially supporting ones, that have no backstory. Even if they do, they're bland. Disney stories are like this. Most of the character building is focused on the main players. And that's understandable. Time constraints may limit that. But good characters had lives before showing up to the reader or viewer.

However, with a ten-episode series, a writer can delve into the messy lives and bask in the dreaded details. We resonate with that because all of our lives are messy. This is where Sud shines. She creates characters that have had lives before we see them. They're revealed in a way that helps create plot and arcs to be traversed.


In Seven Seconds Clare-Hope Ashitey dives into the role of KJ Harper, the lawyer responsible for the case that encompasses the series. It's not enough to have her be an alcoholic. That's cliche. What isn't is how it affects KJ's choices socially and professionally. There's a couple of suggestions that she sleeps with whoever is available. A guy at a karaoke bar. Her detective counterpart. There are many times alcohol threatens her case. She either misses her court appointments, or delves into the deepest darkest part of her so she gives up on the case (and herself, essentially).

The detective, her partner in crime, not only has to deal with her messiness, but he has a messy past of his own, which resulted in a resentful daughter, revealing his emotional character arc. And this is something that isn't made very clear in a lot of the writing classes that I've taken. Creating messiness for a character is easy. But having it linked so his character arc must resolve it to me is pretty basic. But to know how to do this the writer must know the character traits. How it was taught to me is that a character trait shapes how she sees the world. For example if she's a workaholic, then her whole world revolves around that life. When a guy asks her out on a date, she'll likely deny him in some way, despite the fact that she may be hard up.

So working backward in creating scenes for your character is one way to approach this messiness. Having a character trait, workaholic, that allows you to move her toward the person she should be, appreciating the moment (smellin' da roses), will make it easier on the writer to create scenes. Because the scenes have to push the question: What's more important? Work life? Or life with people, nature, real experiences that changes her soul? I can tell you, living in the San Francisco Bay Area that real experiences are a luxury. In my opinion, that's unfortunate.

Touch Me

Jobs vs Jobs

Jobs vs Jobs

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 had done 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.

I am tired

I am tired

This is where movies like Fruitvale Station and Lincoln excel. Both deal with huge issues, in this case racism, from an intimate point of view of the character. I'm not sure if the fact that both characters die at the end that makes it more intimate, but since many who I've talked to about Lincoln wished there was more action makes me think that's not the case. It is called Lincoln not Let's See Some Civil War Killins.

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 to cover 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.

The Killing Mood

Oh shiet!

Oh shiet!

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.

Gawd, I'm prettie

Gawd, I'm prettie

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 the 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 Dexter, 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.