Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Do Bats Eat Cats?

Oddly, now that I no longer need to feel guilty about not reading enough philosophy, I find myself reading some philosophy -- albeit in that cheesy-ass, just glance over something on the internet, way.

This week or so Judge Richard Posner is filling in for Brian Leiter in his blog, the Leiter Reports. My memory being the Nerf-like trap it is, I'm pretty sure I read some articles by Posner back when, but can't remember what. At any rate, Posner has already made some interesting and controversial points, and provided some of his thoughts on both how the law works, and how he believes it should work. It's fascinating stuff whether or not one agrees with it, so I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest.

In Point 4 of this post, Posner suggests that academic philosiphizing neither is, nor should be, consequential -- by which I assume he means influential on public policies. I think this is an interesting issue. I'd definitely agree that it has no immediate effect; in fact, any effect might take years to percolate out into the public consciousness. However, it definitely does seem like I hear echoes of Theory of Justice in much of modern liberal thought, and echoes of Anarchy, State, and Utopia in much of conservative thought (and definitely Libertarian thought). Moreover, it feels like John Locke and J.S. Mill had a pretty heavy impact on 18th and 19th century politics.

What makes me unsure of my own belief that political philosophizing slowly works its way into public thought is that I don't really know the causal order of these things. Were the liberal policies promoted by Mill already floating around and he just invented a theoretical justification for them? Likewise for the others. One thing that always made me nervous about moral and political philosophy was the suspicion that I already knew the outcomes of my theories and I was just massaging the theory to fit the answers. Of course, science has to do that too -- gotta fix your theory if it says that Pluto doesn't exist -- so that's not necessarily a crippling problem.

I've also added a link to the Left2Right blog in my links section. That makes the whole thing pretty lefty but eventually I'll add a link to one of my oldest friend's arch-conservative blogs to balance it out a bit.

I'm a bit put off by stated goal of the forum. The picture that the right is some kind of monolithic entity that one needs a special language to speak to seems awfully similar to the picture that the left is some kind of monolithic entity that one needs a special language to speak to. People vote for different candidates for all kinds of different reasons. Greens find allies in card-carrying NRA members. Those on the left opposed to the death penalty find themselves allied with (some) people in the pro-life movement.

The forum seems to have veered away from that goal, however, probably because people have gotten over the fact that about half the time your preferred candidate loses, even when you really dislike the other guy. Regardless, the sheer number of impressive thinkers posting there makes it worth checking out.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Director's Comments

Last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I spent the mornings in conference call with the director and a couple producers. This is the first chance the director had to provide feedback so there was naturally a fair bit of it -- though I didn't have to wholly scrap some 20 pages and rewrite them like the most recent draft.

One thing directors bring with them is a better understanding of what they can accomplish given the budget. Since they've also worked with some effects companies, they have a better understanding of which effects are affordable. For example, I had an early scene depicting a relatively low-tech version of a lab, thinking that would be cheap, but the director's going to make it look much more spiffy. I was also under the impression that makeup effects would be more affordable than CGI -- and that's not always the case since makeup eats up a lot of shooting time.

Another factor to keep in mind is lighting setups. A movie occurs at a number of locations and one of the real time killers is setting up the lights in each location. In this case a location means a room, or hallway, or closet. So being able to shoot in the same room a few times can really save some time.

Because no-one wanted to sit on the phone for 9 to 10 hours we split the discussion up over three days. This helped because I could then spend the rest of the day doing the editing -- most of which went quickly. From what I understand the following rule is true of a large number of things but it struck me as even more true in writing (probably because that's what I'm doing): 95% of the work takes 50% of the time and the other 5% takes the remaining 50% of the time.

A fair bit of the rewriting is just going in there and figuring out the logical consquences of a change, or modifying the tone of a section. Moreover, after talking with others, one typically has a burst of new ideas, and those all flow pretty quickly. But there are some parts of writing that just need inspiration -- you can help this along by continually turning over the problem in your mind and engaging in different activities, but it still takes time. My technique is to make sure I've gotten all the parts that don't need inspiration out of the way, sometimes getting a few bits of inspiration while I'm doing that, then going back to the difficult bits. The last 5% isn't hard work -- I get a lot of walking done in that phase -- but it is time consuming.

Friday, December 10, 2004

On Collaborating

Call me Vichy but collaborating is cool.

I had my first conversation with the director this morning (my first ever with any director). He called mainly to say hello and introduce himself -- then mentioned a few brief ideas about what areas he'd like to focus on during the next rewrite. I'll get the extended version of those notes on Monday morning or so.

He seems very excited about the project and quite energetic -- which spills back over to me and I'm already excited about it.

Over the past year and a half or so I've found myself increasingly perferring the screenwriting format to the prose format. I had made a few, frankly, non-tries at screenwiritng several years ago; basically firing up an old version of Final Draft (screenwriting software) then looking at the page and not having any idea of what to do with it. However, last year when I had a story idea, outline, and started writing -- after a bit of research on how to write a screenplay -- I found it went quite smoothly. Moreover, I liked the structure of the screenplay itself: sparse prosy bits, a focus on action, and having some fun with dialogue. I'm not particularly one for flourishing descriptive passages or playing with language and screenplays fit that model well. Also, I really like to imagine and describe action scenes -- that's where I do get a bit detailed. But I suspect action plays poorly on the page and in novels, whereas it plays exceedingly well on the screen.

So one aspect of screenwriting I like is the core process itself. However, there's an added benefit once you get a chance to talk with others about actually making the thing. Writing itself is a solitary activity and you normally don't get much in the way of feedback until your monster is published. Screenwriting, though, grows into this group project where a bunch of people all have their own ideas about what way things should go -- and so you get a lot of discussion and a chance to talk with others. For me the balance works well, since I'm sort of solitary and sort of social.

I know that some screenwriters get frustrated at the lack of control over the final film. And, yes, there's a distinct lack of screenwriter control over the final film -- sometimes others will have ideas you don't agree with regarding a scene or bit of dialogue. However, I suspect producers, directors, actors, editors, foley artists, and a slew of other people also feel frustrated about their lack of control over the film -- and that's because in a group project it's pretty much tautological that you're not going to get total control of the film.

Also, when the producers, directors, and so on come on board and start wanting their ideas added to the mix this is because they are excited about your project. A fun idea inspires a bunch more fun ideas -- think of the last film you really enjoyed and how many ways you could see to expand bits of it or explore different directions. And, yes, they're also adding in their bits because you've made some mistakes. I've written quite a bit with little to no editorial oversight so it's rather pleasant to finally have a thorough error-checking process in place -- and, of course, as a team we'll still make mistakes.

Sooner or later some actors will come on board and I'm particularly interested to find out their perspective. The producers, director, and myself all look at the movie as a whole -- but the actors will look at it primarily from the perspective of their one character. Since, essentially, I'm thinking for every character, having some people who can make their entire work about just one of the characters should add some valuable new perspectives.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Screenwriting Update

Apparently pre-production on The Sound is thrrpping along -- I'm not sure what word to use because I'm not sure if it's racing speedily toward a Bruckheimeresque explosive extravaganza or clunking and clattering along like most of my cars.

Shooting starts, theoretically, at the end of February. Which still seems awfully quick but I think smaller films are less lethargic. It looks like the producers have decided on a director; I figure once he's in place a lot more pieces will settle into place as well. I'm working with two companies: Fast Carrier Pictures and Velvet Steamroller Productions. The Fast Carrier site has a smallish blurb about the film -- you'll have to dig a little for it, I'm afraid.

Producers are very cagey about the information that leaks out regarding their projects, so I'll let them be the source of public info on what the film's about and so on. Like the army, movie-making seems to be a lot of hurry-up-and-wait; but that gives me a chance to work on some other screenplays. Sorry, Mom, still nothing you could watch though Jaru came up with another suggestion that I probably won't get to until I'm about 50.

Bats and Cats

Having kept up with my friend, Dan's blog, for a while, I liked the way his blog allowed me to follow what was going on in his life. And with more and more friends and family (including me) seeming to scatter over the planet I thought I'd give it a try as well. If nothing else, this way you can find my email address if you've lost it.

Titles are pretty tough, at least in movies I know the formula -- painfully simple and descriptive (eg. Jaws is about a shark) -- but for the nonsense I'll drivel out here I'm rather more stumped. The theme of nonsense helps inspire a title, though; even better, it's in the public domain. So I chose the above snippet from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The full quote is below:
"Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?" and sometimes "Do bats eat cats?" for, you see, as she couldn't answer either question, it didn't much matter which way she put it.

I swear that line is one of the reasons I went into philosophy for a bit longer than was probably necessary. Seems oddly consistent of me too since Apocalypse Now was one of the reasons I joined the army.

Since I want to test out how this looks I'll finish up for now and try to post more later.