Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Second Drafts Are For Structure

After taking a week or so off to vaguely contemplate future screenplays and play/write various game stuff, I'm back to the screenplay in progress. This is the second draft and I've picked up the habit where this draft gets devoted almost wholly to structure.

Part of that typically involves trimming 7-10 pages out of the first act. For some reason the fat goes right there -- I think it's because I have a bit of floundering starting out, and I'm trying to get the characters and their issues down, so I end up repeating myself a lot.

The big structural thing I look at is level of tension at different points in the script. This feels almost like putting together a musical composition, where I want some lulls or low tempo sequences, then high tension bits. And, sometimes, it's fun to play with a high tension bit and see how long you can make it without losing that tension, kind of like having a long riff in a song (not that I have any real knowledge of music). I particularly enjoy doing this in the first big action sequence.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Wisdom of Spam

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Never judge someone until you have travelled a mile in their shoes

Emphasis mine. I received the above spam today and felt so edified by the inspirational postscript to their pornographic advertisement that I just had to share it with the internet.

It's like a Fortune Spam.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

RPG Geekdom

I released a new game book in electronic format via RPGNow and ENWorld today.

I had entertained the notion of going into RPG publishing full-time, but that's an even more brutal business than screenwriting. Not only are pay scales low, but the frequency of doing work--under contract!--and not getting paid for it is stunningly high. And, since nobody has any money, there's typically little point in calling out the lawyers.

One of the saddest parts, is the churn rate in great game designers. The Steve Peterson responsible in part for Champions (and why I go by Steven Palmer Peterson in all my writing) is working in computers somewhere now, despite helping design the equivalent of the calculus for roleplaying games.* Aaron Allston writes novels now. The folks at Pagan Publishing are now all mainly doing video or computer games.

But terrific new designers keep popping up -- and I'm adding a few more of them to the link list at the right.

Adrian Bott -- He's been doing some work for Mongoose, and I mainly got interested in the excellent, and very non-railroady, Drow War series. If you trawl the better game shops you might also find a delicious bit of nastiness titled, The Book of Unremitting Horror, to which he contributed.

Monte Cook -- One of the few designers who I suspect could actually write RPGs for a living for the rest of his life. My current players are suffering through multiple of his books at the moment.

Bruce Cordell -- The squamous illithid overmind of psionics. Check out Hyperconsciousness for psionics pushed to where it really ought to go -- and for an example of why it's worthwhile to think more seriously about one book -- one author for RPG books. The unity of vision allows for something very interesting.

Charles Rice -- We started the RPG writing at the same time. He's written buckets of material, and his books for d20 Modern are one of the best reasons to play the game.

* While some might take this as a mere joke about the complexity of Champions, or the fact that I used to write up stuff for my Champions game during our high school calculus class -- I also mean it because such a vast number of very influential ideas came out of that system. You can see analogs for multi-powers, elemental controls, and variable power pools in many modern games. Effect-based design was something Champions pioneered, and is now practically a cliche. Even genre emulation, Champions via its wahoo knockback rules and friendly way of keeping people from getting killed too easily, can be traced back to it.

Friday, June 16, 2006

What Falls Out Your Behind?

I'm walking today and the local paper reports that San Antonio has a $75,000,000 budget surplus.

Meanwhile, my wife's former advisor told her that New Jersey will be cutting funds to the universities again -- this despite having the highest per capita income in the United States.

Frankly, it's a bit incomprehensible where they spend their money. Unless you're a superstar, the pay scale for professors in New Jersey isn't much higher than here (if any higher) -- yet the cost of living there must be close to twice as high.

But I was reflecting on how it seems that San Antonians (and their city) just have money falling out their behinds. It's like -- I've got too much money, I'll need to buy a 5-6 bedroom mansion on an acre of oak-forested land, with solid granite counter-tops everywhere, for $375,000, to store all it. Then buy 4 or so pickups and/or SUVs to cart all that money around.

Even when the gas prices sky rocket and somebody pulls their Hummer (I swear, more here than in L.A. -- but this is also a military town) up to the gas pumps, the most they can manage is mild annoyance at the gas prices because, really, they can easily afford it.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Book Prices in Dungeons & Dragons

Brad DeLong has posted an article about the rules put into place when the University of Naples was established in 1224.

Students at the university had to use their books as collateral, it seems, and if they didn't pay off their debt before they left, the books would have to stay with the university.

Professor DeLong goes on to mention:

Back in the thirteenth century, a book copy sold for the same share of national product that $14,000 is today.

Just prior to that:

At the end of the fifteenth century, a book copy sold for the same share of national productivity that $1400 is today--the equivalent relative expense to this laptop I am typing on.

The ten-fold drop in price is largely due, of course, to Gutenberg.

I always thought that putting fantasy-era RPG prices in dollar equivalents, or at least having dollar equivalents floating around, would do a great job putting things in perspective.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The (I Suspect) Sad Saga of Snakes on a Plane

Snakes on a Plane has inspired at least two screenwriting blogs, one Alien Loes Predator comic, and God knows how much other internet bandwidth.

It even has its own Wikipedia article. You can see a trailer here. I'm not sure where you can find a clip of Samuel L. Jackson shouting "snakes on a mother-fucking plane!"

So the film is developing a nice little fan base before it's even released -- it seems mostly people who are already thinking that it's so bad that it's gonna be good.

And I'll definitely be seeing it too. But I'm going to engage in some expectation management.

In order for a film to be good via being bad, it must be earnest. The producers have reacted to the free publicity by shooting some new material, attempting to intentionally appeal to their prophetic fanbase. I read somewhere that they are even using things seen on the internet to aid in their re-writes, and probably re-edits.

Must be a rare joy to be the screenwriters that not only have to take notes from everyone involved in the production, but now also random people on the internet. At this rate, perhaps the big screen will finally see Kirk and Spock take it to the next level.

Worse for the film, since as soon as you try to be bad, you cease to be funny.

Camp is the the lazy filmmaker's humor. Everyone knows the tired cliches so everyone can intentionally write tired cliches -- then throw the actors on screen and have them smile really hard at the audience: "We know this joke is ancient, but, see, we're all just having fun here. Please smile back at us." At its very best, camp manages to be cute and successfully beg an indulgent smile from you.

I'm sure the original writers weren't striving for camp. Someone probably saw the metal detectors at the airport and thought to themselves that they'd never detect something that was organic and lethal -- like a snake -- so wouldn't a snake be a clever weapon to use?

And a little hook like this can be all you need to hang a film around. If the other bits like character and suspense work well, then the hook can intrigue people enough to come to the theater (or read the spec) and the material can entertain them enough to enjoy the movie.

But the problem is that even when there is some sense to an idea, sometimes just a hint of goofiness can undermine any chance at suspense or serious drama.

I still have hope though. A particularly zealous performance by Samuel L. Jackson could make this a fun film -- so long as he plays it straight.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Personally, I Wouldn't Last To The Check Out Line

Via the Freakonomics Blog -- someone has decided to blog about his experiences with an all-Monkey Chow diet.

Monkey chow apparently comes in convenient kibble form and is, in theory, nutritious enough for monkeys to use as their only food source. So why not humans?

Must be a grad student.

Definitely check out the video links on his site -- they're hilarious in a "you, poor, poor, man" sort of way.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Secret to Productivity

-- is being married, without children, and having your wife go on a trip.

Yesterday I got up, walked to the local store to buy a fresh bagel, came back, toasted it for breakfast, then wrote 10 pages on a new screenplay.

After that I still had too much time so I went to see An American Haunting, since a period supernatural thriller could be interesting, or at least good research, despite its mediocre reviews. I walked out after an hour though because it was a bit tired. I know it's realistic to debate whether or not there are really ghosts doing all this, but I've seen it hundreds of times already so either make it fresh, or at least make it brief. But I was bothered more by the scenes of the 14 year old daughter getting raped by a ghost. It seemed to tread far more closely to child porn than The Exorcist's scene.

So I came back -- walked back to the grocery store for Pepsi, then home to make some spaghetti.

Watched four episodes of Alias, 1st Season, while eating and dicking around on the internet.

The internet dicking about led to the long post from yesterday, and another big post over on Jonathan Tweet's message board regarding immigration policies.

Finally, a couple completed quests in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion -- then print out two copies of a recent screenplay and drop them along with sundry release materials at the post office so that they'll catch the morning truck out.

Single men don't have this much free time, since they're out doing single guy things, and often wasting far too much time trying to stop being a single guy.