Archive for June, 2009

Kill Your Electronic Mail

E-mail has really changed the face of work in the past generation. Time was that to talk to anyone about work you had to pick up a phone and chat with them or drive over to them and chat face to face. There are numerous advantages to handling business this way. You get a sense of who you’re working with, you can ensure your ideas are communicated properly, you get an instant response.

But for sheer work volume, it’s pretty hard to beat e-mail. It saves on the paper that endless memos require, and it allows you to communicate very cheaply and very quickly with people anywhere in the world. The impact e-mail has on productivity is low as well. The receiver can take this e-mail whenever they see fit and deal with the issue when it suits their schedule the best.

Oh. Did I say the impact e-mail has on productivity is low? Maybe in a lab environment.

Out in the field, e-mail is decimating the workforce. In some areas, e-mail has virtually (pun!) taken the place of all other forms of communication. Instead of e-mail being a waiting ticket that should be dealt with as time allows, it’s dealt with instantly. It pops into your inbox and a little notification dings and you click and you deal with it right then and there. Sometimes, this is a great way to get things done. Getting on top of requests the moment them come to you can be an excellent way to keep your inbox down and your responses rapid. There are entire fields where this is the entire point (tech support, for example).

There comes a point where this is not sustainable, however, for many positions. Looking back to my first blog entry on why multitasking is evil, I’d have to say that e-mail is the chief perpetrator of crimes against your productivity. Every time you’re in the middle of a task and you stop to check an e-mail and respond to it, you have broken your efficiency. The time needed to focus and then refocus on a task is not insignificant. While it may feel like you’re getting a lot done by answering e-mails while you’re working on the layout for that weekly newsletter, each time you come back to that newsletter it may take you a minute or two to get back to the point you were before, and certainly longer than that to get into whatever creative or productive groove you were in before.

“But I answered so many e-mails at the same time! I was productive!” Right. You did. But each of those e-mails would have taken you the exact same amount of time if you had waited an hour or two once your original task was done. The newsletter, though? That now took an extra 30 minutes, and maybe it has spelling mistakes or some flawed design because you weren’t focused on it completely. And that hit in productivity is only looking at the workplace in a vaccum where all you have that can jump up and hijack your day is an e-mail. In the real world you’ve got phone calls and walk-ins and the internet and text messages and IMs from co-workers and who knows what else.

The point here is that you need to create boundaries for your e-mail. Maybe you check it for an hour in the morning, two hours in the middle of the day and an hour at the end of the day. These are your rapid-fire periods. Your office door is open, the phone is on the hook and your e-mail is open for business. During these periods you can tackle all the short term tasks that can start to bog down your schedule

For the rest of the time, turn off your e-mail. Close the application. Don’t visit the webpage and by all means turn off the desktop notifier that pops up instantly and tells you have new mail. I killed my Gmail Notifier months ago and have never been happier. With your e-mail off, you can really focus in on whatever task may be at hand. If you can manage it, set your phone to forward all calls to voicemail and lock your office door. Give yourself 100% to what you’re working on and what you’ll see come out the other end will be a better product made faster.


Serial – Episode 2 of “20th”

Part 2

We’ll find out together if we think this little experiment is working, I guess.

Tim didn’t want to be lucky.

People were always telling Tim how lucky he was. Friends from school who had seen some positive thing come his way. Acquaintances who heard some rumor that he was a guy good things happen to. People on the street who saw news reports about how he survived being struck by lightning.

These were people that didn’t know Tim. They hadn’t been with him his whole life. They hadn’t seen the peaks and troughs, hadn’t watched the sine wave of his experience. The only woman who knew the width and breadth of it all was gone now. She had told herself that the only reasonable explanation for her son’s lot in life was that she had done something to curse him. Some evil in her life had caused a punishment to be meted out onto her son. The fact that he had survived and that his sister had grown up alongside him relatively safe and sound was what had kept her together. But on Tim’s 17th birthday, when Janet went missing, she broke apart. She began a long downhill slide that ended in a bottle of pills when Tim was 20.

Dave was now the only one that had been around long enough to know the score. And he had only been around for the past seven years. He’d never have the full picture, but Dave knew as well as Tim did that to be lucky was not a blessing.

Luck is fickle and indiscriminate. Highs and lows alike. It’s not all good luck. Luck is supposed to be indiscriminate. There are more than six billion people in the world and they all get a taste. Infants, saints, heroes. It doesn’t matter. Luck is supposed to be random. Any time, any place. You’ll never know when fortune will smile or scowl in your direction. So you live your life the way you always do. You do what you like how you like and when you like to. What’s the point of planning around luck? Random and thoughtless. It’s a force of the universe. How can you account for that? There’s no reason a person should have good luck or bad luck. They are simply experiencing what they are experiencing.

But it’s different for Tim.

Tim is a lucky person.  In as far as he can estimate, he is the only lucky person alive. There are people that luck affects in more extreme ways in others, but they don’t count. That’s like saying that people that fall of cliffs are more affected by gravity than everyone else. Matters of extreme luck for Tim are regular as clockwork. Once a year, every year, for the last 28 years of his life. And why should this year be any different.

June 20th.

It is the the day he was born. Arguably the single most defining day in his life. Rivaled only by the day he would eventually die, which would be a 20th. Hopefully not this one.

Janet is born. Dad becomes a paraplegic after being hit by a car. Dad dies.  Tim loses his virginity. Mom kills herself. He’s struck by lightning. Tim wins a tidy sum in the state lotto. Every year, every June 20th.

No one notices. They miss the connections because the events don’t always affect Tim directly.  His father being hit by a car and dying on the same day years later was chalked up as a fluke. The fact that it was his son’s birthday is considered a freak accident. Just one of those things. This confluence of events made his mother’s suicide seem that much more expected. Each occurrence is viewed as a compartmentalized item for most. Anyone who would have been a part of Tim’s life long enough to make the connection is simply dead or gone.

Tim was in his early teens when he made the connection. His mother already knew. It was why she couldn’t sleep, what gave her the haunted look that made her so alien to all his friends. It wouldn’t be until his late teens that the two of them would be able to discuss it openly, and by then it was too late for him to save her.

It would be so much easier if he could just lock himself in a room every year and wait things out in silence. He’d take a sleeping pill, lock the doors and wake on the 21st, safe and secure. It was futile, though. Mom learned that the hard way as well. After Tim was lost in the woods for two days during a camping trip for his birthday, she must have put two and two together. The next few years she grounded him on his birthday and confined him to his room. But Tim didn’t have to be around for an event to affect him. His school exploded after a gas main broke. His father died the next year.

His mother tried then to let him lead a normal childhood, convinced that she couldn’t do anything but suffer quietly and pray. She hoped that Tim’s final 20th would come a long way off into the future and that not too many of those days would bring misfortune. Any chance of a normal life faded when Tim inevitably discovered the pattern in his life. He saw the pattern and it immediately instilled a continual sense of dread in him.

364 days a year were only prelude to a day where he would either be treated to some present, or have another piece of his heart torn from his chest. Tim was careful not to dwell on metaphors like that, unless they became literal through some involuntary act on his part. Who was Tim to say thinking something that was fruitless. It seemed that the normal rules didn’t apply to him.

Nature doesn’t make straight lines. Patterns of this singular fashion simply do not occur in the world. Did Tim cause this? Did god? Tim wasn’t even sure if he believed in god, even with all this. What was happening to him felt too much like something out of Greek myth. Maybe he believed in a pantheon of gods who were using his life as their chessboard.

It was impossible to enjoy life on a day-to-day basis because anything he loved would immediately become a prime candidate for destruction. Would someone he barely knew die on the 20th? Maybe. But what would he care? Would his new girlfriend be hit by a semi on a drive over to visit him on his birthday? Now that was a possibility.

Every joy had fear skipping along behind it, kicking at its heels.

No Comments

Indiana Jones and the What Went Wrong

[Author’s Note: After the second paragraph, there be spoilers]

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull rubbed a great many of us the wrong way. By us, I mean Indy geeks. I count myself one of that number, but I don’t think that Indy 4 was nearly as brutal as I was led to believe it would be. I do, however, feel that the film shot just left of the mark. Not far enough off to result in an unmitigated disaster, but enough so that I was left feeling hungrier for classic Indy action than when I began the film. This was the Indy equivalent of eating nothing but celery all day. You’re taking in content, and you enjoy it while it’s happening, but there’s nothing substantial for you.

So… what did I like? For starters, there is some great flavor to the movie. Speilberg conjures up some very faithful Indy action and interactions. Old favorites make appearances. Villains get their gruesome comeuppance. The ridiculous sound effect that accompanies a punch to the jaw remains in all its original glory. Even Shia LaBeouf as Mutt (bonus points if you know why they would call him “Mutt”) wasn’t a hateful addition, though he was clearly the anchor point for the younger audience the film felt it needed to be speaking to.  The writing is decent, the film skips along despite its 2 hour run-time, the puzzles and riddles felt like Indy problems to solve. And Indy himself is, well, Indy himself. He’s a patriot and a scholar and driven enough for knowledge to help the bad guy get the info they want and to worry about how he’ll stop them after the fact. All of these things were present in the film, as they should have been.

So then what went wrong?


Indiana Jones is NOT science fiction, for starters. It is adventure. It is pulp fiction. It is supernatural. It is mythic. It is religious. It is scientific. It is NOT science fiction. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is science fiction, therefore it is not real Indiana Jones.

The core of the film deals with the discovery of an artifact that is revealed to not be a sculpture of an alien skull, but an actual alien skull. There are alien bodies shown in the film. The film ends with the uncovering of a flying saucer that vanishes into another dimension. And it all just makes things feel off somehow. Indiana Jones has always dealt with the fantastic – the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, whatever the hell was going on in Temple of Doom – but a flying saucer piloted by a crystal hive-mind alien skull that vanishes into another dimension after disintegrating an ancient South American temple? It’s just one step too far. The spectacle was too great and it became apparent as artifice.

I began to realize that my problem with the film was that it was injecting flash to distract me. I wasn’t supposed to notice that Indy was old, so it tried to distract me. Instead of weaving that into the action and making his age part of the adventure, and having him – as he should – rely on wits to get himself out of danger, the film stuck to flash and glam, and too much of that was constructed in a way that made it feel less like the classic action it should have, and more like something out of a Michael Bay film. And it’s not even the sequence of action that necessarily gave it this feel. Its the manner in which it was filmed and presented.

There was too much CGI. Too many scenes that would have otherwise felt crunchy and satisfying were made glossy and thin by computer graphics. I know you can film a car chase through dangerous territory and make it real and visceral, Spielberg. You did it 27 years ago in the original.

Hell, there are even scenes where things get on the lens. I find this to be a pretty ludicrous bit of breaking the fourth wall. If you want your film to be 3D, make it 3D. Don’t remind me that none of this is real by splashing crap digitally on a camera lens that shouldn’t be there. It’s a cheap parlor trick almost always intended as a grossout effect, and all it does is make it very apparent that there is a visual effect in play. It’s not natural, and for a film about the 1950s era, drawing attention to computer graphics being used to augment things is probably not the way to go.

Which leads me to my final point — rather than make an Indy film for the Indy fans and have Harrison Ford be the age he really is in the film, there’s a palpable feeling that the film is trying to be relevant. It doesn’t do anything quite as subtly as the previous films (parts of which are decidedly unsubtle). The era is pushed down your throat. Things are explained to you in utterly matter of fact terms even after loads of hints and clues and prodding that should have led you there on your own anyway. Hell, there are digital groundhogs doing double-takes at the start of the film. It’s just trying too hard.

The film feels as if its laboring as hard to make its points and to be itself as Harrison Ford must have been when trying to film some of the stunts. Instead of just telling a story about Indiana Jones and how age is impacting his ability to adventure and how he’s still The Man in spite of it, the movie feels as if it’s trying very hard to make everything shiny and hip and relevant. Indiana Jones isn’t about being hip. It’s about being classic. It’s the very definition of old school and the film gets so close to capturing that you can almost taste it. In the end, though, it ends up being that aging hipster that knows the fresh lingo and maybe knows a few of the dance steps, but very apparently is just out of his element.


Social Networking to Build Your Fan Club

– or – How to Wheaton-ify Your Life

If you’re reading this blog entry, Google Analytics tells me there’s a 31% chance that you got here via a social networking site. They are everywhere and they are frequently maligned, but they serve very interesting purposes. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Linked In, Friendfeed. These five are not the width and breadth of internet social networking, but for the time being they are for me. As such, these are what I’ll be covering. They overlap a bit, but all can serve a specific aim when you’re looking to make a name for yourself.

Let me pause quickly to cite some sources and inspirations for this write-up:

Colin Wright, freelance designer and general productivity philosopher has written a slick e-book on personal branding, and he covers the necessity of monitoring social networking in part –

TED – Clay Shirky discusses how the change in media interaction from a monolithic “one-to-many” style of delivery to a shared mass network is changing the world –

TED – Seth Godin discusses the notion of tribes (another way of referring to grassroots movements) as the way to get a message out, especially due to the advance of the internet –

And now back to the action.

Social networking is seen typically just as a way to say inane things to your friends and post pictures of funny and cute things so that others can look at them and say inane things about them. And really, 90% of the time, this is what they are for. (I have to ask: What’s wrong with that? But it’s why many people love to hate them)

For people invested in a social network, though, it’s much more than that. It’s a secret club that they happen to be in with thousands upon thousands of other people. There’s a funky sort of Jungian camaraderie in social networks. No matter how different you may be from everyone else on them… you’re both using the same tool to communicate. So you can’t be that different, right?

Now, with access to that entire multitude of people, it’s time to jump on-line and start hyping your next film or gig or book reading (or…ahem…blog post) incessantly and randomly? This is your ticket to fame and fortune! Not quite.

Internet users are cynical. We’ve seen so many fake things on the web that we tend to assume that anything we come across has some level of scam associated with it. We’re getting a link because someone wants to make money off of click-through advertising, or they want you to play some game so their referral link makes their own score go up, or some neat video is actually viral product placement. These things are the case so frequently; why would people NOT assume this to be the default case?

What you need to do is really participate in an on-line community. On Facebook or MySpace? Respond to people’s messages and photos. Say hello to friends and family. Play silly games. Get a little pet on your page and feed it things. On Twitter or Friendfeed? Post messages. Share links. Give referrals to your friends. Acknowledge those that follow you. Linked In? Give recommendations to coworkers and colleagues. Do all of these things, and do them regularly… and then you can start to promote yourself.

Once you are part of a community, part of a tribe, part of that giant club then and only then can it start to be your fan club. The Golden Rule exists on the internet as it does everywhere else. You have done unto others and shared in their experiences and their community and when you contribute something to it, they’ll click. They’ll read or watch or listen, and there’s a pretty good chance they will share, too. And if they start to share your work, then it’s only a short hop to growth. The internet is what makes Six Degrees of Separation seem possible. You can imagine how quickly you could start to experience exponential growth.

Don’t see anything other than having thousands upon thousands of people latched on to your every move as a total failure. This is where the Fan Club notion comes into play, and why my sub-head references Wil Wheaton, formerly of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. It’s now very possible and affordable to cater to a specific niche and have that niche carve out a living for you. You don’t need to have a book picked up and distributed by a major publisher who takes most of the profits to succeed. You don’t need a billboard with your name on it in the midst of a rampaging metropolis. Mr. Wheaton makes a very comfortable living, I wager, based off of faithful readers of his blog and book. He self-publishes, and his Fan Club purchases. These are people that read his Twitter and follow his blog and recognize him as a kindred spirit. He’s their buddy and why would they not shell out $10 to support a friend? Now take those $10 and reapply it a couple hundred thousand times.

All those people you’ve been sharing and cultivating a community with, they’re now part of your Fan Club, and by virtue of the fact that you are part of their community, you are part of theirs. There is a strong degree of loyalty involved with that relationship. You don’t need to a book to sell to a few million people to be successful. Depending on the needs in your life, you could sell it to 5,000 and be just fine.

Think of social networking as a way to invest in your future. You’re making bonds, maybe making friends, possibly creating loyal fans. It’s organic advertising of the best sort, because it’s all word of mouth passed from one trusted entity to another on a world-wide scale. Never forget, though, that if you come at this arrangement thinking of social networks as advertising, you’ve lost before you’ve begun. That might be what the eventual end result is for you, but you need to look at social networking as a relationship. You need to be invested, and you need to mean it, otherwise it’s all hollow, and one day it will explode in your face.


Serial – Episode 1 of “20th”

It’s my goal to be providing you a pretty steady stream of fiction, but it’s not always possible to get all the awesome ones ready to go in conjunction with a weekly schedule. So, with that, here’s the start of an experiment in serialized fiction. Don’t be shy about telling me what you think.

20th – Episode 1

The phone rang and Tim fumbled his hand around the bed to find it and bring it up to his ear. He thumbed button to answer and said “What?” His eyes never left the clock. 11:58

“You awake?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions.”

“Teacher says there are no stupid questions there, Timbo.”

“That’s a lie.”

“You ready?”

“Again with the stupid question.”

“Come on man, you know what I mean. Are you ready?”

“I don’t know. I think so. Doesn’t matter if I am.”

“Can I come with?”

“Are you insane?”

“Come on, Tim. How many years before you just say yes?”

“More years. That’s how many. More.”

“Can I at least pay for half the lotto tickets? I’ll only ask for a 25% cut if you win. It’s a pretty good deal.”

“You want to give me $10 and then consider getting one quarter of several million dollars to be a good deal?”

“It’s all relative man.”

Tim sighed. 11:59. He rubbed at his eyes.

“It’s getting close, man.”

“I know it is. What do you think I’m doing over here?”

“Sitting on your bed staring at a clock. Same as me.”

“I’ve gotta go, Dave.”

“Right. Big day and all.”

“I’ll see you later.”

“Tim? I wanted to… It’s been a ride, man. If I don’t get to talk to you later. I just wanted to say.”

“I got it, Dave.”

“You be caref—“

Tim dropped the phone to the bed and continued to stare at the glowing red lines. Without a sound, they shifted. 12:00.

The 20th.

He let out the breath he realized he had been holding and got up from the bed, stepping tentatively away from it like a man unsure if the ground beneath him is capable of supporting his weight. He listened, heard nothing and then shrugged his shoulders and walked to the bedroom door.

Hanging from the back of the door, innocuous from a distance, was a tabloid-sized sheet of paper covered with numbered entries, 28 in all. By the end of the day, one way or another, there would be a 29th entry.

The first line on the sheet simply said “1 – Born”. The second “2 – Parents Separate”. The third “3 – Dad hit by car”. The fourth “4 – Settlement awarded”. Tim ran his gaze down the list, stopping as he did almost every day at three particular items.

13 – Dad dies.

17 – Janet goes missing.

20 – Mom suicide.

Tim ran his hands briefly over each of those lines. The paper was beginning to wear thin as a result of this penance. He reached to his desk and uncapped a fine-point Sharpie. Bending down, he wrote a careful “29 – ”.

His last thought as he opened the door and stepped out into the hall was that he hoped he’d be the one to return and finish the line. Otherwise it would simply read: “29 – Died.”

No Comments

Up and the Power of a Consistent Theme

It should come as no surprise to anyone who watches movies these days that Pixar is basically the pinnacle of consistent filmmaking out there today. If you pass their films up because they’re cartoons, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Pixar films are very rarely, especially lately, films whose message is aimed at children (This actually would be my only critique of their films: that sometimes they’re missing both intended audiences by trying to cater to both). What Pixar offers are films with very  “mature” messages that are crafted within the framework of a cartoon for children.

It’s no surprise that most people don’t rate Pixar films in relation to other films, they do so in relation to other Pixar products. They stand apart.

Up continues this trend. The film is filled with cute moments and the kinds of characters that will entice children, but its message is one that speaks almost exclusively to an adult audience. It might not be as exclusively aimed at an older generation as The Incredibles (at its core, a film about a mid-life crisis) or Wall-E (a cautionary tale about our excesses), but Up‘s core concept deals with what it means to fulfill our life’s dreams, something that you can hardly expect a child to grasp. Note that this isn’t a story about having a dream. It’s a story about what it means to pursue and achieve those dreams.

The film seems to distill wonder with its focus on achieving the impossible mixed with a flavor of old school adventure from the 40s and 50s era of cinema and television. It also packs a ridiculous emotional punch. If someone like me was choked up no less than half a dozen times in the film, a more susceptible film-goer can expect to be in tears at least twice. Not the kind of impact you usually expect from a movie supposedly for kids.

Okay, mini-review complete. Here’s where I warn you about spoilers. They’re coming up.

A big part of why Up, and Pixar films in general, succeed is their adherence to a theme. Don’t confuse theme with setting or plot. The theme here is seeking your dreams, and what that means for one’s life. Every major, and even some minor, characters in the film embody this theme in some fashion.

Carl (the little old man) has the dream of living in Argentina, as per his deceased wife’s unfulfilled childhood hope—but once there he realizes that pursuing this dream to the exclusion of all others is an ultimately unhealthy pursuit. Carl’s wife dreamed of living south of the equator, but ended up living an entirely different sort of dream with Carl. Charles Muntz has become obsessed by his dream and it has turned him into an evil and lonely man—this is what makes him Carl’s foil. Russell has the dream of fulfilling his boy scout badge quest—but this is really just his way of seeking out the approval of the father figure he wishes was around. Even the dog, Dug, dreams of being accepted by a loving master for the kind of creature he is.

Every major character pushes the audience towards the theme and explores a facet of it. And because of the intermingling, it makes it possible to really explore variations on the theme. Carl realizes that his dream all along was adventure, and that his wife realized long before he did that their life together, mundane as it might appear on the outside, was the true adventure. He realizes that by taking Russell under his wing, he has fulfilled the dream of being a father, a dream he abandoned long ago.

All of this adds up to make the film feel very cohesive, and that’s because everything is interrelated. They’re all sides of the same construction, functioning as support for the theme which forms the film’s core content. And for anyone interested in actually writing screenplays (as opposed to just watching and appreciating), it should be very apparent by now why a clear theme like this makes a film much easier to write.

If every character has a dream and a goal of their very own, every character has its own plot. Look at that plot for each person. You need a beginning, middle and an end for each. You’ll want a couple high points and low points for each plot. So, let’s say you have 4 characters, and each of their plots has 5 major points to it (start, middle, end, 1 low point, 1 high point)… well that sounds to me like you have at least 20 scenes. Tying them all together and working in your exposition, and you’re remarkably close to having a fully realized script.

Maybe later we’ll discuss the little details that can really give your script life as well. For example, it’s not an accident that the pin that Carl get’s from his wife, and the badge that Russell is missing from his scout sash are both located in the same position, and that position is right over their hearts.

No Comments

Vicky Christina Barcelona and the Voiceover

Vicky Christina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s latest, is a pretty sharp bit of work. The film applies a sort of casually biting look at the lives of its protagonists, playing around with the notions and limitations of relationships and love.

The film follows the adventures of Vicky, a neurotic woman convinced she’s looking for a very traditional and stable sort of relationship, and Christina, a hopeful bohemian who seems to thrive on chaotic relationships, during a summer trip to Spain. Once there, the pair encounter Juan Antonio, an artist who propositions them both to become his lovers. Vicky is of course appalled and Christina of course enraptured.

As the film progresses, though, both women grow to form different attachments to Juan Antonio and his erractic and brilliant ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz in an Oscar-winning performance) that cause them to mature and evolve their views on life and love and relationships.

Woody Allen films are, all the way through, an acquired taste. They feel an awful lot like theater in their staging and dialogue and they border the preposterous at times with the scenarios that are presented. Even his more recent films that don’t feel much like traditional Woody Allen (Match Point also comes to mind), have something about them that sets them apart somehow in their presentation.

For Vicky Christina Barcelona, it’s the voiceover.

The voiceover is a much maligned bit of screenwriting technique in all the standard tomes on the subject. It breaks a principle rule for good writing, which is that the author show, rather than tell, the audience critical details. At first, it does indeed seem that Allen is abusing this conceit in his film. During the opening moments of the movie you are told, in about the same fashion as my synopsis above, all about the lives and tendencies of the two woman the film follows. It feels a lot like Allen wants you to get all these details the easy way so he can just jump off into the deep end of the pool without needing to wade his way through anything first.

Why then does Allen then take the time to have scenes of dialogue between Vicky and Christina that exist only to very clearly illustrate that they display the type of character that he has just described to you? Is he being redundant? Maybe he’s too old for this crap now? Doubtful.

The voiceover crops up periodically throughout the film… and it always is telling you something in very plain terms exactly what the film itself appears to be showing you, again in very plain terms. It’s not so much a crucial bit of exposition for the main narrative as it is a parallel narrative – just watching along with you. But to what end?

As with the breaking of any and all screenwriting tropes, it comes down to style. Allen is trying to evoke something very particular here, and the narration takes the film from being a modern talking-heads style drama and gives it a bit of classic style. It also gives a bit of a sense that you’re watching a parable play out (similar to the too-short-lived Pushing Daises on ABC).

Would the film have been better without the voiceover? Critics across the net say yes. I say it would be different. Maybe it would be better from a modern sensibility, maybe it would make more screenplay professors happy. However, all the voiceover was to Allen was another tool to evoke a particular feeling.

The moral of this particular story? Always, always, ALWAYS break the rules when it helps you say what you want to say. Know the rules first, and then ignore them frequently.

Vicky Christina Barcelona also segues into a great talk about titling your writing. The film is about four people: Vicky, Christina, Juan Antonio, Maria Elena. The film is about a complex love affair. The only other thing named in the title is a city in the country the film is set in. So before you think that the film is only, or even primarily, about a relationship between people… think about that title.

But that’s a topic for another post.

No Comments

Fiction Friday – Wile E. Tweets

A little primer on some of the terms here for the Twilliterate. Too much? Yeah, I thought so, too.

Wile E. Coyote’s Twitter Timeline

AcmeFan49 — Super Genius business cards and coffee mug arrived. Café Press. Gotta love it.

AcmeFan49 – Feeling hungry. Going for fast food again. haha. Seriously tho. It will work this time.

WabbitSeasn — @AcmeFan49 Good luck, pal! Let me know how this one works out. Fight the good fight.

AcmeFan49 — Big day is here! @MarvinFrmMars When are you going to visit again? Been a long time.

AcmeFan49 – Staying in for a few days. Fur needs to grow back. All of it. Superman Lotion might have just been Nair with different label on it.

EatMaiDust — MEEP MEEP!

AcmeFan49 — @EatMaiDust Real mature. Don’t have you birdseed to peck at?

AcmeFan49 — New package came today! Just call me Carnivorous Giddius!

FghrnLghrn — I say, now, son. How’s that, I say, how’s that fur coming back in there now?

AcmeFan49 — Fur still patchy, but looking lustrous! Watch out coyotettes. I still can’t understand why you keep Tweeting like that, @FghrnLghrn.

FghrnLghrn — @AcmeFan49 I type like this cuz it’s my style, son.  I say, I don’t get how it is a carnivore like you, I say, gets blown up quite so much

AcmeFan49 — @FghrnLghrn You’re lucky you’re gigantic. Otherwise I’m pretty sure you would be a delicious meal.

MarvinfrmMars — @AcmeFan49 Furry Earthling! Was your most recent acquisition the Transmatter Displacer I created for Acme? Isn’t it delightful?

AcmeFan49 — @MarvinfrmMars The very same! From one super genius to another, thank you. I’ll save you a roadrunner drumstick. Maybe. jk.

AcmeFan49 — Plan 1,477. Transmatter Displacer not secured properly. Falling boulder shifted aim. Hind legs displaced into waiting deep fryer. Unpleasant


AcmeFan49 — @MarvinfrmMars btw, thanks for nothing with that Transmatter Craplacement device.

MarvinfrmMars — @AcmeFan49 RTFM

WabbitSeasn — @AcmeFan49 You could always try switching to rabbit. Very lean.

AcmeFan49 — @WabbitSeasn And how’s that going for you? Going well? Didn’t think so.

AcmeFan49 — RT @WabbitSeasn Duck Season! Rabbit Season! Duck Season! How can you keep track when they talk so fast? Another fine from the state.

AcmeFan49 — Free shipping in the latest catalog. Acme has me again!

FghrnLghrn — @AcmeFan49 Now, son, you consider just going on ahead and stopping in at a restaurant this time.

AcmeFan49 — Okay haters (and soon-to-be-food), this one’s the one. Cooking up something big soon. Pun intended.

AcmeFan49 — Rocket-propelled segway. Anti-gravity boots. Parachute. Kevlar body suit. I can’t fail.

AcmeFan49 — Or chute could deploy early, segway could activate the boots, suit could limit my movement and I could land in Nebraska.  Also a plan.

BaconBoi — @AcmeFan49 That’s all folks!

AcmeFan49 — @BaconBoi That’s only cute with the stutter, Lunchable.

EatMaiDust — MEEP MEEP!

1 Comment

Your Favorite Show in Danger? Good.

I’ve got a few problems with Hollywood these days. We’ll save my problems with endless remakes of films that were once considered untouchable classics for another day. For now we’re going to discuss television.

I used to hope that the shows I enjoyed would be universally loved. Everyone would watch what I watched and be as entertained as I was. After all, scientific research has proven that I have great taste in shows, so it was only logical. The more people that watched the shows that I loved, the longer the show would run, the bigger its budgets would be, the more fantastic everything would be.

It was a foolish Utopian view, sadly. What ends up happening is that shows become hugely popular, and they become a cash cow. Once a show is raking in money for a network, the suits step in and then they start to drive the ship. Creative control is now a matter of committee and decisions that might make for a better show, but could perhaps alter its path and therefore its audience, are shot down summarily. What started as a fresh and exciting bit of entertainment on the small screen has turned into a revenue generation machine that will run until it has ground itself into dust.

I’ve seen many shows walk this path, and it’s depressing. Seinfeld. The Simpsons (be honest with yourself, it hasn’t been the same for a long time). That 70s Show (they even tried to keep this one going after having lost two of its central characters and largest stars). Prison Break (how many times do they need to get placed into another prison for the premise to still work?).

In the past few years, I’ve gotten into and enjoyed a few shows that were in danger of failure, or indeed did fail almost immediately, and they’ve proven some of the most vital and effecftive bits of television I’ve ever seen. Firefly. Dollhouse (say what you will, it made for some action packed television). Veronica Mars. Arrested Development.

When a show has years of run-time ahead of it, it’s in the best interests of the writers to stall. They need to arrange relationships and situations so that they will carry on endlessly into the future. This means that no matter what happens on the show, a certain status quo must be maintained. Inevitably, the show will stagnate or get outrageous as the writers attempt to milk infinite mileage out of a limited premise.

A show in danger of being taken out back and shot is where you will see the prime television. How do you bring people in to a show that is struggling and keep people who are watching from abandoning you? Ratchet up the tension, move the plots along. In short: tell a story. There’s no time to waffle around and stall, the show needs to get from Point A, where everything is introduced, to Point B, where everything is tied up in a satisfying fashion for the audience.

This is akin to what seems to be the standard format for shows in the UK via the BBC. I’m not suggesting that everything that comes across the pond is excellent, but it’s pretty clear that British shows have the right idea when it comes to telling a story. Shows air for as long as they need to… and then that’s it. The Office, Extras, No Heroics, even recurring shows like Doctor Who set out to tell a story in a single go and fade away once they’re done.

Does this mean your favorite show might not be on the air for as long? Yes. But it should carry some weight that it will be better while its around. Lost is a prime example of this. Season 1 is some excellent television. By Season 2, it was clear the show was faltering, introducing mysteries and questions that it couldn’t answer, for fear of running out of content too soon. Season 3 was a pretty low point for the show and even the die hard fans were starting to falter. Season 4 rolled around and the show had renewed purpose, and flew through with an exciting and action-packed Season 5 filled with action and answers. How did they manage the turnaround? They decided the show would last only 6 seasons (with each season being shorter than average length). Suddenly the show had a timeline and the writers had a structure in which to tell their story and be done.

So, until networks start to prescribe to the notion that shows should only last as long as their story dictates, rather than as long as the cash will keep flowing it, it appears that the best way to ensure a show delivers a quality story is for it to be in danger. Sad but true.


Friday Fiction – Interview with a Zombie

I’m going to try to make Friday Fiction an at least semi-regular post on this blog. It think it will make for a good way to keep me writing things that aren’t entirely work related.

This first entry came about shortly after I finished reading Max Brook’s very excellent World War Z, which provides just a startling well thought out account of a world under seige from the undead. Told through a series of fictional interviews with key survivors, the book outlines the struggles and eventual “triumph” of humanity over the zombie menace.

Well, I felt there was one voice missing from the narrative…

Interview with a Zombie

Anyway, I guess we should get started? You probably want to know how it is that I can still talk? I’ve heard that they believe the disease attacks the brain’s various centers. For most, it shuts down all but the most basic biological imperative: to feed. I’m not sure why it shuts down the desire to reproduce, but I would imagine it has something to do with both shutting down the hormone production that makes it possible in the first place, as well as the ability to function with enough coordination to pull the act off.

I’ve read the scientific journals on the topic already, actually.

Well, you’ll forgive me, but the ridiculous helmet that you’re wearing, by the way, didn’t really inspire confidence that you’d done your research before stopping by.

At any rate, I appear to have been partially immune. So here I am, chatting away, still able to process thoughts just like anyone else among you Breathers, but without any real drive of my own. I’m numb to everything except the need to feed. I suppose that you could say the virus turned me into a pure sociopath. I see that you are human. I can converse with you, as we are clearly doing now… but to me you are a hunk of flesh.

You don’t really need to wear the helmet.


It’s not because I won’t attack you (I won’t, I had a snack just before the interview so I could focus). It’s because it’s sort of a ridiculous notion.

We don’t eat brains. Not primarily anyway. You’ve seen. Have you noticed any fussy eaters? Exactly. So if you’re going to wear a helmet, you may as well throw on some chain mail to boot because you’re presenting a lot of other options there.

The head is not a convenient place to bite, either. More often than not the height differential will make it an unlikely target. We all tend to slouch, so we’re effectively shorter than our frames would be otherwise.

I’ve seen people get bitten in the head.

I’m sure you have, but that was probably a bite of convenience, so to speak. They probably were lying on the ground already or that was really the only spot left on them available. There’s almost no reason to start there, though. It’s not meaty in the least and the skull takes some work to get through. It’s a meal you’ve got to earn.

Do I need to be—

Relax. I told you I already ate. We’re not like dogs, gorging ourselves because we don’t know any better and then vomiting up the result.

But it’s not uncommon to see your kind roaming about, flesh falling from a gaping mouth.

Well, they probably just didn’t have the ability to swallow anymore, or maybe they had just put too much in their mouth and you saw it just tumbling out. I don’t think we vomit. That requires a lot of nerve signals and communications through the body that we no longer have.

How long before you’ll be hungry again?

You’re concerned. I get it. The helmet.

I’ll actually stay sated for a fairly long time. In the wild, the stomach contents tend to decompose faster, freeing up space and triggering the need to feed further. Just like vomiting, have you ever seen us defecate? We eat, but then where does that food go? It just sits. It will eventually go its own way. Try leaving a steak out in the grass one day. Even if you shoo away all the major predators that try and come to take a bite, it still won’t last too long before it’s not there anymore. All the tiny scavengers will do their work in time.

It takes longer for us because the meat is fairly well hidden and for me, in here, sterile as it is, it will last almost indefinitely.

I had to eat before you came because they pump my stomach regularly to simulate the hunger. They have a lot of studies to conduct. How I feed and process food and what nutrients my body still does absorb are of much interest to them.

Does all the testing bother you?

Of course it doesn’t bother me. You could stab me in the eye and it wouldn’t bother me, nor would I feel it. Again, my nerves are as dead as the rest of theirs, functionally. I’d like to tell you I’d prefer that you not stab me in the eye, but really, I don’t think it would actually affect me in the slightest if you did. I’d simply stop being able to talk. I have no fear about what would result from it. The notion that maybe I would be “all the way dead” is one that is equally numb to me as most other conceits.

And that’s why the phrase “The Living Dead” doesn’t feel right to me. This isn’t exactly “living” is it? This is shuffling around and moaning and taking bites out of things. It’s surviving at its most basic. We have no art and no culture. There is no innovation, no fun or games. Can you imagine what our theater would be like?

Enter Rodrigo and attendants. Rodrigo moans and stumbles. Attendants moan and bump into each other. Exeunt.

Do you have a name for your kind?

Well, as we have no real language: no. Do I have a name for us, though? I’m not sure. I’d like to say I’d given it some thought, but I’m really only capable of stream of consciousness. I retain a bit, but it’s like a goldfish. I can really only recall enough to keep going down the path I just started on.

The recognition centers are okay, as they are with all of us. Otherwise we’d be attacking trees and rocks and things because we can’t distinguish one thing from another. I don’t keep forgetting who you are.

The name?

What do you mean?

You were talking about a name for your kind?

You asked about that before? Right. See what I mean? Like a goldfish. We’ve become a sort of virus, though. We’re clearly not the Living Dead. That’s just a poetic contradiction. We’re alive, just not in any traditional sense of the phrase. But we live like a virus, don’t we? We reproduce ourselves by supplanting the defenses of the host and our only biological imperative is to feed. Reproduction, as it were, is totally asexual and, in fact, a byproduct of the feeding. The rest is details I suppose.

Do the authorities here seem to be worried about you?

About me specifically? Because I can talk? Would you be worried that a talking dog would somehow foment the Great Canine Rebellion? No. I can talk, but they can’t listen. If some of them could listen… it would never be enough to be a problem. We are a pretty ungainly horde. Plus I can’t remember things for very long. I really only exist for whatever thread I’m currently on, or moving on to. Have I told you that already? Probably.

Speaking of dogs, you’re lucky that this plague is affecting humans and not the greater animal kingdom. I’m sure you think it’s bad enough that it affects humans. I guess I can’t blame you for being too preoccupied to really think about anything else. I don’t have that burden.

Humans evolved away from all of their natural defenses. No natural armor, no sharp teeth, no claws, no particular speed or strength. We sort of just shuffle around and slap at things and get lucky enough to take a bite from time to time. Think of bears. Not exactly a picturesque scenario for you. But even then, they’re not very numerous, or global. How about wasps? Flying creatures consumed by a need to attack and sting and feed on anything they can see. Too small to see coming from far off, able to nest and hide in most anything. Wouldn’t that be fun? And ants. You are so far outnumbered by ants that you can’t even comprehend it. It’s something like 150,000 to 1. And if they all started to go on a murderous rampage that your poisons couldn’t stop? Good luck with that.


What was—

Sorry. Instinctual trigger. It’s your scent, another thing honed for us. It’s really the only sense that we need, so I think what’s left of our faculties are devoted to sharpening it.

Will that call all the others?

No. All the others are confined to their own cages. I think the walls are thick here, so they likely didn’t hear the call. You should be fine. Though, the call only really triggers when the hunger is present. They did feed me earlier, but I don’t recall how much.

Where are you going? Why are you wearing that stupid helmet?

It won’t save you.

No Comments