Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Humans: Too "On the Nose"?

Yesterday, while walking, an older woman came out of a shop and walked toward me. This was on the Westside -- so a little posh -- and, to be a little sexistly frank, she looked somewhat like what I'd expect the wife of a banker or mid-level studio exec to look like.

Anyway, she pauses for a moment next to a bush, smells a flower, then continues walking.

A block or so later it hit me -- she just took a moment to smell the flowers. How painfully on-the-nose.

*For those unfamiliar with the term, on-the-nose typically refers to dialogue where the characters express exactly what they feel, or say things that no normal human would say, but are necessary in order to fill the audience in on the plot. I think it could also be applied to actions that are painfully obvious in trying to get across the much deeper point.

That said, it did strike me that such a scene could work on-screen. But the audience would have to be just like me, and not recognize it as "she's pausing to smell the flowers" until they're on their way home from the theaters.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Linkage Update

I've updated the links to the right for various reasons.

I've added two new screenwriting links. There's been an explosion of screenwriting related blogs this year (seems you can't shut writers up). Jim Miller at The Awful Writer has posted a couple times here and offers insights on writing and film -- in addition to having a cool blog title. Bill Cunningham at DISC/ontent has extensive experience with a fascinating part of the business, the D2DVD world; he's also a screenwriter and we have a special (but not at all uncommon) connection -- and, yes, we're cool about it.

I've changed the Presposterous Universe link to a Cosmic Variance link -- science now with even more brains!

And I've dropped the Conservative Philosopher link. That place was so bad it scared away all of its own writers -- then the only remaining writers seemed to spend all their time trying to define what the word "conservative" meant, and informing the rest of the unwashed about whether or not they counted as conservative or something else. It's a shame Nozick isn't around any longer. If anyone has a link to some rigorous conservative philosophy pages please throw them my way.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Honk If You Oppose Genocide

Driving back from Santa Monica I passed the VA building in Westwood (I think that's what it's called). This place has a history of collecting all the protests and people with signs.

Anyway, there was a cluster of signs saying "Honk if you opppose genocide". Being generally down on genocide and having access to a convenient car horn I cheerfully honked.

A bit later though I started to wonder. Are there a bunch of people out there that we need to educate -- who mistakenly used to think that genocide was good but have now been enlightened?

Getting out and being active strikes me as a good thing -- even when it's about something as controversial as whether or not we should promote or criticize genocide.

However, the scene struck me as symptomatic of an endemic problem in society: wanting to take stands and talk about the incredibly simple issues and avoiding the complex, but real, problems -- then giving up when you can't find a simple solution to the complex problem.

For example -- something like "we should obey our Kantian obligations to save those in immediate threat of starvation, even though doing so may cause more harm in the long run by propping up corrupt regimes", or vice-versa, doesn't fit on a sign. Or at least doesn't fit on a sign that you can read while driving past on the road.

Reminds me that I'd like a pair of bumper stickers that say:

If you can fit your moral philosophy on a bumper sticker,

then you've got a bumper sticker's worth of moral philopsohy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Los Angeles

I'll be heading back to L.A. tomorrow for about ten days -- from the 20th to the 30th. This used to be a bittersweet experience -- as I would get a chance to hang out with friends, sit in the back yard with the family, eat at Casa Bianca, In-N-Out, Pinnacle Peak, and Round Table Pizza. But it would always be tainted by the wretched, La Brea tarpit like slowness of my dad's dial-up internet connection.

That era has passed! My dad recently upgraded his computer to some ultra-spiffy machine and now has DSL. No more listening to the raspy voice of the modem attempt to woo a few more bytes per second out of Earthlink or whatever other miserable excuse of an ISP he used.

I'll also have a couple meetings while I'm back there -- that'll help reinforce my delusion that I'm a professional.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


For those of you without a philosophy background, one of the puzzles some people pimp for tenure is vagueness -- for example, is a refrigerator with one bottle of mustard and some weeks-old green tea drink left there by your last girlfriend empty? Does it become unempty if you add a bottle of beer to it?

I put some clothes in the drying machine and had a choice between the timed-drying -- which never seems to be long enough to actually result in dry clothes -- and the by-dryness, drying.

The by-dryness part of the dial has little adjectives like "less dry", "dry", "more dry", and "most dry". It's true that I can get my head around the concept of more or less dry -- perhaps there's some way to measure water content left in the clothes.

But really, I just want my clothes to not feel wet. If they feel wet, they aren't dry. And if they don't feel wet (er, ceteris paribus...) they are dry. So dryness is a binary function but Maytag is trying to convince me it's a continuous function -- the philosophically rigorous, but practically useless, bastards! Personally I think the dial should have three settings:

  • Not Dry
  • Dry
  • Dry and Extra Hot

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Homeland Security Market

Through Slate I found this New York Times article -- a shining example of terrorism profiteering by the wise old fogies of the Senate. Here's a quote:

This was a sad week for the war on terror. The Senate voted, disgracefully, to shift homeland security money from high-risk areas to low-risk ones - a step that is likely to mean less money to defend New York and California against terrorism and more for states like Wyoming. Before the vote, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff made a powerful appeal to the senators to distribute the money based on risk. But the Senate, led by Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and other small-state representatives, put political pork ahead of national security. It now falls to the House to fight for a financing formula that will keep the nation safe.

I suppose one nice thing is that the other chief architect of this plan is a democrat (Joseph Lieberman, CT) -- red and blue can work together...

Friday, July 08, 2005

Character Polish

I'm finishing up some revisions on a slightly older screenplay this week. A while ago I received some notes that suggested I do some more work on the protagonist's character and arc.

So I go through and do what I'm calling a character polish -- just changing stuff to help bring out the character better. Now, obviously, I might be very wrong about this, but I was impressed by how much one could do with relatively minor changes.

Since the screenplay was fairly short I simply added or extended some scenes with character development. Changed other scenes to juice up the pathos a bit. And spent a lot of time thinking about which moments could be best cultivated to bring out the character arc. Personally, I feel much better about it now and think that this draft manages to bring out some real emotion.

If I'm right, and a series of relatively minor textual changes can have this effect, then how many almost-good films are just a few scene modifications away from being no-reservations-good films?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Visitors, Invaders, and Poachers

Gary and J'aime visited here the last couple days. They got full Texas treatment since the temperature floated around 100 degrees. While I imagine it made the beer taste better, I also imagine this was one of the few things that could make someone feel happy to return to New Jersey.

While here we saw War of the Worlds. I had read that it started well then ended poorly so was pleasantly surprised when I liked it all the way through. While very different in subject it reminded me of Jaws in some key ways. It has this big, epic story in the background but the entire film focuses in tight on the Tom Cruise character and his family. We are never given any explanations for what's going on and the character is just pushed around from suspense scene to suspense scene -- and I liked the purity of that, almost a mere chronicle of what it would be like if this were to actually happen. Like in Jaws, where it's just about getting the shark, War of the Worlds is just about this guy protecting his family -- and that works quite well given that we'll likely see a far more complex Spielberg film this Christmas.

Jaru and I have also moved into our new apartment. That meant a whole, maniacal, blood-stained week without internet access from our apartment. By last Friday I was on page 56 of my "All work and no internet makes Steve a dull boy" post and Jaru was hiding with the cat and a Hattori Hanzo sword in the other room, but then we had a brief spell of being able to poach high speed internet from some nearby wireless network so I was able to hold out until today.