Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Life We Choose

We shot a conference today. I am always pleasantly surprised when the keynote speaker is interesting enough to keep me engaged in more than singing "Mama Mia" over and over in my head to the rhythm of the time code. One topic the speaker touched on particularly resonated with me. Though he was talking about a different area, I found myself applying it to my writing and film career, as it stands (currently on all fours, though we're working towards two legs).

He mentioned that he has always been a terrible fundraiser, because when he is asked the question "What would you do differently with our money that you are not able to do now?" his response has always been "Nothing. We're already doing what we want to do." His intent was not to say that they don't want funding, but that they plan to accomplish their goals with or without the extra cash. He stated that the best people to pay to perform a job are people that are already doing the job for free, because they like it. That way by paying them, you're taking the pressure off, and allowing them to make even more of an impact. Though this methodology does not work with every business model, I believe it applies to us. If we want to make films, we should make them. Funding or not, credits or not. If we are passionate, we are passionate. Perhaps someday someone with a rich uncle, or Harvey Weinstein himself will pay us to do what we want to do, but until then we continue to pursue our passion on our own.

This made me re-examine my priorities, to reconsider my motives for doing what we do. Sure, I love to make money. Do I want this to be my full time paying career? Absolutely. Is that my motivating factor? Absolutely not. We want to create films with a message, that share our artistic vision and allow us to exorcise pent-up creativity. We want to tell stories, weave legends, and live a passionate life. These things are not dependent on money, though its easy to convince yourself that they are. Obviously I will not say no to a budget that will greatly increase the production value of our films; heck, I'll actively seek one out if it suits us, but we will make our films without one if necessary. Whether we see our projects on the big screen in Hollywood, or crowded around our laptops with our families. Whether we affect only one person in our family, or one thousand in our city, or one million throughout the world, we are going to do this because we love it. Most of the time.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Magic of Star Trek

I am currently coming off my second viewing of J.J. Abram’s “Star Trek”, and am still reveling in the excitement I felt during both screenings. I come at Star Trek primarily as a fan of TNG (The Next Generation, in non-geek) and of late, Deep Space Nine. I rarely watched the original series though I have seen all the movies (The Undiscovered Country being my favorite; no hate from the Khan lovers please.) I went into Abram’s adaptation feeling a certain amount of trepidation. Like so many other fans I was nervous that the genre would be overrun by a new wave, and homage would not be paid to the vision of the late Gene Rodenberry. Within the first hour my fears had been allayed and I knew that I loved the movie. This is unusual for me since most of the time I cannot gage my reaction to a film until the credits.

The thing that blew me away about this film was the cast. Though my knowledge of the original characters has by no means reached Trekker status, I couldn’t have asked for a better selection of actors to play the young crew of the Enterprise. Whether it was a strategic decision to choose relative newcomers to the big screen or just dumb luck, this film struck gold in its lead players. Chris Pine was able to breathe life into young Captain Kirk, making the character his own, whilst still humbly paying tribute to the Kirk created by Shatner and the original series writers. Zachary Quinto portrayed Spock in conflict, struggling with the pull between his human and Vulcan heritage. I was worried going in that I would only see brain-lusting Sylar of Heroes, marauding around space with pointy ears and a botched eyebrow job, but this was not the case. Quinto separated us so fully from his silver screen persona, allowing us glimpses of the Spock we know and love, but whom he has not quite grown into yet. The most paralleled portrayal in my opinion was that of Karl Urban, who portrayed Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. His mannerisms were nothing if not precise, and the humour surrounding his Bones-isms was perfectly timed and had just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek.


I read a review today where it was mentioned that Kirk’s character has zero development, and his journey is pretty much nil, in the emotional sense. I couldn’t agree more, though at first I couldn’t figure out why I still loved the movie. Typically if a character is lacking development I am turned off; in this case, I think I was just so excited to see where Kirk came from that I bypassed my normal must-haves for a character. I know from the original series that Kirk is a fairly stagnant character. Kirk is who he is, no bones about it I expected this. Seeing it brought to life by the vibrant and attractive Chris Pine only solidified my love for Kirk and his ways. I get the feeling that this movie bucks the system in many ways. Abram’s took an unpolished script from mid-writer’s strike, characters beloved by possibly some of the most intense fan group (ever met a trekker?) and a story arc that had a very specific format to follow, dashed a little bit of cinnamon and paprika on it, and the rest is magic.

The choice to create an alternate timeline was probably the best thing the writers could have chosen to give the film a little bit of breathing room from the expectations that it had to live up to, whilst showcasing characters that are recognizable despite different circumstances. The alternate universe allowed Abrams to showcase a different set of events without feeling like he was stepping on the toes of those who’ve memorized the dates and times of every important Star Fleet event in Trek history.

Nero as a villain was an interesting choice. This is possibly the only thing that remains up in the air for me (other than the copious sun flares that plagued the movie; seriously once is funny, twice is annoying, three times deserves a spanking). Nero is a villain that facilitated both Kirk and Spock’s agendas in the film. Kirk has a personal vendetta against Nero for causing the death of his father. Nero’s reactionary choices allow Kirk to showcase his shoot from the hip style. Spock, whose future self incidentally caused Nero to become what he is, struggles with the emotions brought on by Nero’s form of revenge and Kirk’s method of dealing with Nero. Why am I up in the air? We barely get to know anything about Nero. We see a brief holograph of the pregnant wife he lost when Romulus was destroyed. We know why he is here, but we never find out who he is. Some history on his personality would have been nice. Was he always so reactionary? Has he proven himself ruthless prior to these events? Do those awesome tattoos mean anything? Even a flash-forward (or back depending on how you look at it) to him with his wife may promote more sympathy for Nero, thereby creating more intensity behind his cause. One thing I can say for certain, Eric Bana delivered a great performance, as usual. I could barely find Bana in Nero at all, unless I scrutinized the eyes. He went as far as he could with what he was given.

Abrams breathed new life into the worn backdrops and tired sets, creating an Apple Store bridge, with clean white technology and Kindle-esque tools. Engineering resembles a submarine packed with technology, and well-oiled machines. The Enterprise gives the impression of the Navy, in space. The crew salutes the captain when he walks past, and you can tell that they are there to perform a duty, rather than attend a housewarming party. This was s fantastic directorial choice, as the original Enterprise was essentially a ship, not the home that was portrayed in The Next Generation where the crew lived on the ship for years at a time. In Kirk’s early days a mission was undertaken, executed, and the crew was returned to earth or their respective planets. This take gives the viewers a sense of realism, something that we can attach ourselves to based on the knowledge and experience that we possess.

The pacing of the film can be summed up in my phrase of the week “A no holds barred, action packed, non-stop thrill ride”. From the opening sequence, my eyes were glued to the screen. A great portrayal of familiar characters with a new cast and the best that updated technology has to offer. Combine that with J.J. Abram’s particular brand of magic, and you have a summer blockbuster that few can resist, and will likely last through the winter as well. Kudos to the team of Star Trek for approaching a seemingly insurmountable task, and showing us all that there is no reason you can’t buck the formulas and still appeal to the masses.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pro Bono Lifestyle

I've been musing recently about my quest to make the ever sketchy transition from a generic job to an industry specific career. Perhaps I'm not historically savvy (read: old) enough to remember things clearly, but I seem to recall that there was a point in time where the natural progression went as follows: childhood, post-secondary, career. Or in some cases: childhood, entry-level job, working up to executive-level. It seems now that the natural progression is: childhood, post-secondary, strange limbo where you panic about your debts and your lack of career options in your field, slave labour where you work for free trying to gain experience, possible aligning of stars leading to entry level position indirectly related to your field.

I heard today that one of the young kitchen guys at work has given his notice. I guess his plan is to use his savings to support himself as he volunteers at high end restaurants to gain the necessary experience to be employed by them, experience he isn't receiving at our mid-market restaurant. Perhaps I am just suffering from the syndrome that causes every generation to see themselves as hard done by but I seem to remember a time where the work-for-free stage was not necessary to break into your field. We are in the limbo right now. We don't have enough work through the production company to quit our day jobs and still make our student loan payments, but we have too much work to continue at the pace we are going. Getting the amount and type of work that would allow us to forgo casual employment requires a lot of experience. For instance, I am pursuing script reading for cash I have applied to one internship and have had at least two opportunities to read pro-bono for production companies to gain resume experience. All of this still will not guarantee me a position reading for a salary.

My question is this: Has there always been this much competition to break into a career? I know its not solely the film and entertainment industry. I know photographers who are doing weddings for free and musicians who play free gig after free gig. To be a journalist you have to work for your school paper, then your community paper, before obtaining any kind of paying gig. Is it an unwritten rule that you have to prove your dedication to your chosen field within an inch of your sanity and solvency before you are granted your gold (or in some cases silver) star and given the chance to move onwards and upwards?

I was discussing this with my husband today. He mentioned that perhaps we are experiencing a generational standstill in the workforce. The baby boomers are occupying many of the top-dog positions as executives, head chefs, department heads etc., and that perhaps when they hit retirement we will experience a widespread shift in power. The next generation will take the top spots, leaving a gap in the entry to mid level positions in many industries that are currently full to bursting with talented potential workers. He theorized that perhaps we will see a tipping of the scales of opportunity, and anybody with a small portion of skill will be accepted for paying positions. Neither of us being a student of population growth verses employment opportunity we are simply hoping for the best. Regardless, it will be interesting to see the continued progression of the employment cycle over the next decade or two. Until then, does anybody have an internship opportunity for me? I will work for credits!

Also, when in doubt blame it on the baby-boomers.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Art of Funny

People tell me I'm funny. I get it all the time. At first I took it as a compliment, thinking that perhaps I could roll it over into my writing to be successful in more ways than I had initially considered. Perhaps I could be a sketch writer, or write for a website that focuses on satire. After reading some of my early attempts, I'm developing a new perspective on my so called sense of humour.

First, I'm pretty certain that people confuse random with funny. I tend to go for shock value with my chosen phrases and occasional outbursts. Its not intentional, but I get bored with the traditional way of responding to situations so I throw a random caustic opinion into the mix every now and again. When you work in the service industry, such responses are a cathartic form of anger management; often allowing me to keep my job. More traditional conversationalists are often shocked by my lack of pretense. Their immediate response is laughter, which informs their linear brains that I must be funny; this information follows the internal interstate to their voice box and "Wow, Rach, you're so funny" pops out.

Secondly, I've realized that transferring humour into your writing is a whole different ballgame. There are so many factors to consider. How will this joke be perceived by all age groups? Will it be culturally relevant if and when this script is produced? Does is cross any PC lines? Is it something that only I would consider funny because I've been there? If I can get through all of these questions and still want to use the joke then hit +s and break out the champagne! When I do hit humour it my writing it is usually because I've gotten to know a character and can imagine the funny things he or she might say. I'm certain it has little to do with my own sensibilities.

I am pretty sure I will always envy those who have an inherent gift of humour. The feeling that comes from making people laugh is unparalleled. Being able to immortalize that gift in your writing is fabulous. Until I master this skill, I will just have to survive with the comedian I have locked in the basement. Which reminds me, its time for his lunch...