Corporate Ladder to Nuthin'

I’m sitting in Starbucks and have just sent off another set of pages to go under my writing coach’s machete. I’ve gotten numb after reading through her many comments, constructive as they are. Now, most of the people studying here are college kids, eager to graduate and hit the corporate world.

I hate the corporate world. OK. Hate is a strong word. I loathe the corporate world. OK. Loath is just a synonym of hate. My bad.

There’s just something about that world that irks me. The volunteer 6 X 6 jail cell called a cubicle, earning a fraction of what one makes for the company, and the ridding of individuality by conforming to made up rules crafted to protect both the company and their assets (i.e. sexual harassment suits. OK. Bad example) doesn’t sit well with me.

However, I am thankful for my job. This particular position (I’m prohibited by my company’s code of conduct to reveal who employs me due to my radical ideas on this and all social sites) gives me a lot of freedom, and at the moment I earn enough to write amazing articles such as this (sarcasm anyone?), but more importantly, focus on my books and pay for my writing coach who costs a pretty penny. Well...she doesn’t cost a pretty penny, her services do. That don’t sound right neither.

Last week I was roving around Netflix and saw that they had added a movie called Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays Louis, a guy who is a psychopath, which lends well to his new occupation of filming crimes and atrocities of the streets of Los Angeles. He needs help with some of his duties and interviews an ex-junkie, Rick Garcia, played by Rick Garcia. Uh...no sarcasm here. 

Are you happy to see me?

Are you happy to see me?

Imediately, Louis lies, feeding Rick a story about how he just lost an employee and is interviewing for a replacement

Rick gives Louis a cautious look and says the ad didn’t state what the job was.

“It’s a fine opportunity for some lucky someone,” Louis says. I think every job I’ve ever interviewed for had stated this in some manner.

Louis proceeds to ask Rick about his prior jobs and what he learned from them. Soon after, Louis hires him, paying him a massive sum of thirty bucks cash per night. Woot!

Aside from the awesome storyline of the movie, the interaction between Louis and Rick, employer and employee, are my favorite because Louis represents the corporate world and Rick represents the lowly everyday Joe who’s trying to scrape a living.

Louis spouts nuggets of wisdom like communication is the key to success, and fear stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. The funny thing is my office has posters with words of wisdom hanging on the walls as well, hoping that they drive the worker bees to do better (sarcasm anyone?).

Fame!

A lot is going on here!  What do I look at?

A lot is going on here!  What do I look at?

I just saw Fame, the 2009 version.  I never saw Fame, the 1980 version.  I should since it won two Oscars.  And I'm not one of those people who watches only Oscar winners, but the 2009 version got bad reviews.  And I know why.

Get outta my way

Get outta my way

In the 2009 version, we have a cross section of characters that are admitted to Performance Arts High School.  Clever name.  In this cross section, we have freshmen who deal with issues with shyness, self worth, preconceived ideas from parental figures, grades that lead to being expelled, and people in the industry who've scammed money.

This seems like a lot but a lot of stories have this many sub plots that help drive the main story line.  Problem here is I'm not sure what the main story line is, and these play like sub plots with no main plot.  You could also say they are all main plots but that would be too many.

The second problem is we move from admission to graduation in a period of 107 minutes.  I'm not saying this can't be done, but when you have many sub plots with no main plot, or a whole bouquet of main plots, it's going to be difficult to develop these characters.  Hell!  It'd be difficult with just a single character.  Again, it can be done, but you better be one helluva screenwriter.  The issue here is no character development.  Here's an example:

Whoo!

Whoo!

There's a character named Malik who runs into the problem of parental limitation.  His mom says he ain't all that.  Not in those exact words, but it's a good problem.  We've all at some level--friends or family--have been told we ain't all dat.  Is any of it true?  Of course not.  But the movie doesn't show Malik overcoming that issue, finding that he's special, then realizing he is truly talented.

What if he wasn't?  The movie doesn't show that either.

So is the message of the movie saying that none of us are special (not in the yellow bus way)?  No because the movie is called Fame.

So what's the message?  Not quite sure.

Throughout the whole movie we get performances that are well choreographed.  There must have been a dozen.  To take up 107 minutes with that many performances ruins the pacing and doesn't spend enough moments on what is truly important, the story.  It's like having a ton of special effects with no substance.

We go from admission to graduation, and, in doing so, the characters who are faced with character arc problems either don't solve them, or we don't see them solved, or are not solved.  One ballet dancer is told he won't make it by his teacher, told that he might be a decent teacher.  He believes her, submitting to becoming a ballet teacher.  So does the teacher see herself as a failure?  Then why is she teaching?  As the term character arc states, there's an arc.  We basically go from beginning, miss the keystone moment and BAM!  We've arrive at the end.  And we're not sure why.

Are You a Complainer?

Working in the corporate world lends my ears to a lot of complaining.  Currently we're getting a lot of rain.

But for the past few years we weren't receiving the needed amount of rain and headed toward a drought.  So I'm thankful for this storm.  But all I hear throughout the office is how terrible this weather is.  How awful it is out there.  How inconvenient the rain is.

So would they rather have this?

Because people were complaining how we didn't get a lot of rain.  Either way, complainers can't seem to be satisfied with anything.

Here's a good one.  A lot of companies are going through layoffs.  Mine was no different.  But some of my coworkers complained how busy we were.  We were so busy that overtime was authorized.  I don't know about them, but busy should equal job security.  I'm not a proponent of guarantees, but in a time when unemployment is higher than normal, you'd think they'd be glad it was busy.

I'm not saying I don't complain.  I tend to do it in my head.  And once I'm done, I feel tight, angry, and depressed.  So I've become aware of it and do what I can to quiet my mind.  Sometimes, though, I whine like a baby.  In those cases, I either write a post, surf the web, workout, take a drive, listen to music, watch a good movie...you get the idea.

But a habitual conscious effort will replace a lot of complaining.  Because the best way to replace a habit is with another one.  Just don't replace it with another bad one.  I've seen this before.  When people know their complaining doesn't do anything, they take on addictive habits.  Like watching reality TV.  Sit at bars staring at the ladies and giving them the hibbie jibbies.  Or eat crap food.

Find what gives you joy.  True joy.  And do it.  You never know where it'll lead.

Turning a Blind Side

When it comes to critics I turn a blind eye.  If you can't do, critique. BlindSide

When I studied acting, my teacher didn't really enjoy going to plays.  She went, but not very often.  And it wasn't because she hated plays.  She loved them.  She's worked with American greats like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and several members of New York City's Group Theater.  But her work, her job analyzing students, whether they were acting well or not, had become second nature.  An example, one scene I did required me to enter the stage.

As I walked on, she said in her frog like voice, "Jimmy. What are you doing?"

"What?  I didn't even say anything, yet," I said.

"You didn't have to.  Your energy wasn't there.  You weren't present."

She was right.  It was one of the coolest things that I remember about her.

So when she goes to theatrical performances, she can't help but analyze everyone's performances.

When I go to movies, watch TV or plays, read books, or listen to a story, I can't help but see certain techniques used to create emotion, depth, the setup, etc.  I can, however, turn it off.  That's how good I am.  Or maybe that's how incompetent I am.

Before I went to see Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron, I saw the viewers’ reviews on Fandango.  It had a green cartoon bubble with a plus sign inside, meaning, go see this movie unless you're a loser.  Not wanting to be a loser, I went to see it.  One of the things I noticed, just off handedly, there weren't a lot of disaster.  I caught myself looking for it.It seemed pollyannaish.

I think what saved the movie, aside from being heartwarming, is thehumor.It's not Will Ferrell kind of humor.  That can and does get annoying.  Absurdity upon absurdity isn't absurd anymore.  It's kinda like trying to find a black dot on a black screen.  It was the kind of humor that helps contrast Bullock's confidence and Aaron's low key performance.

Even though this movie broke a huge rule in compelling story telling, it worked for the general audience.  Because no matter what a professional critic may say, it's the fans that determines the success of any work.

In saying that, reading what professional critics say can teach any storyteller some intricacies of the art, especially when they begin to say the same thing over and over again.  If, however, the list of complaints is so varied, then it is just their ownopinions.And we know what that smells like.

Nothing New Under the Sun

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun." Ever heard this?

As a storyteller, this can be a very limiting view.  Or is it?

Romeo_and_JulietWilliam Shakespeare's version of Twilight

A prominent screenwriter in Hollywood, David Freeman, gave a seminar.  There are hundreds of seminars I could have attended, but why did I go to his?  If you go to his site, he talks about techniques in writing.  No theories.  In fact, he gave so many techniques, it was like getting a trunk full of tools.  And in any one job, it’s highly unlikely you’ll use all of them, but you’ll definitely use enough to make your story emotional, something he emphasizes a lot.

He agreed with the quote above, but in a very un-limiting way.

I love going to movies, and one of the pleasures is seeing the previews.  I hate missing the previews like I hate missing the beginning of any movie.  One movie I’m anticipating is Avatar.

When I first saw it, I thought, James Cameron stole my idea!  WTF Cameron?  How’d you hack into my PC?

As I watched the preview, his premise was different.  Similar but different.

Then an image sparked in my mind.  American Indians gazing out into the sea as English ships sailed toward them.

The story of the Native American Indians against pioneering pilgrims is a familiar one.  It’s empire building.  The conflict?  The natives don't want to leave.

Look at Braveheart.  I love that movie.  It’s the same thing.

Look at the battle of Thermopile, 300.

Look at the Mongols invading China.

Look at China’s history of the seven independent states warring against each other for power.

Look at Star Wars.

Look at King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We have tons of stories based on the idea of oppression.  Sometimes the story ends with unification, like China and the seven states.  Sometimes we have stories of independence, like William Wallace’s fight for Scotland’s freedom.  But they all stem from a single idea.

Avatar is no different.  A powerful force, in this case us in the far future, wants something, a valuable mineral.  To mine it, we have to “politically” move a native race.  Easy enough.  But wait!  The native people don’t wanna move.

And the story begins.

Freeman said there were an unlimited amount of stories that could be told using the story computer.  Look at any story that you love or connect to.  Find a variation.

Turn the hero into a heroin.

Change the race.

Change the time.

Change the setting.

Change anything.

Look at Romeo and Juliet.  Change the time to the present.  Make the male a brooding, James Dean-looking vampire.  Now you have Twilight.

The Princess and the Frog is a great example.  What do we expect to happen when the princess kisses the frog?  The frog should turn to her prince.  But Disney was like, “Hell no. Dat’s been dun.  Da princess should turn to a frog, sucka!”

OK.  I doubt Disney execs would talk like that.  But they used the story computer to churn out what seems like a great story.

The Seven Provinces is a familiar story.  It's about empire building.  It's an underdog story.  It's about a man trying to protect his family in a time of war.  It's about oppression, betrayal, tragedy.  And much more.

There may be nothing new under the sun.  But that doesn’t mean new stories can’t be told using familiar themes.

Transformers

Transformers, more than meets the eyes. Transformers, robots in disguise. I loved that show. The cartoon movie after the original TV show ended got critical acclaim. Watch it. You'll see why.

I love movies. I'll watch anything from mindless blockbusters to sappy, chick movies.

But here's the thing. I've listened to teachers of story, and those who teach writers of screenplays state one truth: The talent out there is amazing.

Really?

Sam Witwicky is the main character. His character arc is...wait for it...wait for it...committing and saying he loves Megan Fox. I understand not making yourself totally available to a girl, but common!

Then for him to be able to vow his love to this girl 20 million tons of robots have to fight eah other, military soldiers die, a famed Autobot dies, attempted assassination on his life, and being brought back to life from the brink of death.

Huh?

None of the other characters go through any change. Am I missing something? Well the girl vows her love, too. And, yes, I enjoyed it as entertainment.

But shouldn't that be a subplot?

Now, I'm not a screenwriter, nor do I have an interest in it, but I think there's still room for great screenwriters. As the saying goes, "There's always room at the top."

Review of Obsessed

Over the weekend I saw Obsessed, starring Beyonce Knowles.  I didn't know it was a comedy.  But first, let's start with the review. The story is basic.  A person get's obsessed with coworker.  Coworker is happily married.  The obsessed obsessively obsesses over the coworker and chases after him.  Ali Larter plays the obsessed.  Idris Elba plays the loving husband.  But the obvious draw to the movie is Beyonce.  And because she's a strong woman both in real life and in the movie, she takes care of business.  As expected she kicks Larter's ass.  Might I say a very nice ass.  Overall, despite being predictive, it was  entertaining.

How is it a comedy?

One of the climatic scenes in the movie is when the wife is led to believe that her husband cheated on her.  Elba, who plays the loyal husband, denies, denies, denies.  And then he denies some more.  Even though we see the movie through the husband's perspective, and he did everything to thwart Larter's obsessive obsession, when Knowles accuses her husband of cheating, all of the women in the theater were like:

"You go girl!"

"Oh, hell naw.  He lyin'.  He lyin'!"

"Das right.  Take it to him, girl!"

One lady turn to her friend.  "Mm hmm.  He did it.  He cheated on Miss Knowles."

I could not stop laughing.  As I said, I didn't know I was in for a comedy.  The scene continued at home where Beyonce proceeded to kick her husband out.

"Das right.  Das your house."

"Mm hmm.  Take control.  You deserve better."

"Oh, girl.  Don't listen to him.  He did it. Liar!"

The whole theater filled with catcalls and whoops, praising Beyonce for defending her womanhood.  I busted up laughing.  Not only because of the enthusiasm of the theater, which I suddenly felt to be the only guy in attendance.  But because the guy really didn't do anything.  He actually made no moves, no actions, and wasn't even tempted.  Still, the estrogen filled theater heckled him as if he committed the ultimate marital sin.

I felt compelled and yelled, "He didn't do nothin'."  Which of course fell on deaf ears.