Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dr Who: My theory on Season 5

OK, prediction time: Matt Smith is a decoy Doctor.

I'm actually pretty confident that Matt Smith will be good in the role of the new Doctor. Team
Who have excellent taste in casting and he's got a really interesting look about him.

But I remember the rumours about casting the new Dr Who before it was relaunched. James Nesbitt's name was floated a few times and (based off my impressions of his performance in Cold Feet) I felt he would make a great shambling around Doctor in the spirit of Tom Baker. When I couple that rumour with his performance in Steven Moffat's Jekyll, well ...

My prediction is that Matt Smith will be killed off mid-way through Season 5 and replaced by James Nesbitt.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Movies: October to December

There will be Blood was great on a rewatch, but I still haven't managed to perfect my Daniel Plainview impersonation.

I expected Rescue Dawn to be a man-against-the-jungle movie, but it turned out to be far more of a prison break film. Nice to see Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn get some serious screen-time (and it reminded me of my favourite Steve Zahn performance - in Sahara, where he plays a cocky guy who doesn't realise that he's Matthew McConaughey's sidekick.)

Drag Me to Hell: Torment porn from Sam Raimi. I really enjoyed it, even though the last half hour had that inevitability that comes from figuring out a key plot point a little too early. This film provided a powerful reminder to me that inappropriate bodily fluids being forced through people's mouths is what true gross-out horror is all about.

The Science of Sleep is Michel Gondry's film about dreams, love and hope. At first it uplifted me, but in the end it left me terribly terribly sad.

The Godfather Part 2 didn't seem as clearly plotted to me as Part 1, perhaps because the identity of Michael's antagonist is hidden for so long, but the intercutting between timelines is elegant. It's a satisfying, classy story of revenge, and a timely reminder never to go fishing on Lake Tahoe.

Priceless is a fun sexy French comedy with a totally coherent storyline and sexy selfish characters I really cared about.

Twilight was brilliant because when it turned out that Bella's mum was played by Sarah Chalke (Nina Myers on 24), I learned that my flatmate is a huge fan of 24 too, so we spent the last half hour of the film talking about that.

Green Street Hooligans is a fun B-grade movie (that wants to be an A-grade movie) about Elijah Wood learning to be a football-hooligan. Worth watching for the climactic fight where the film-makers were unable to afford the rights to Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, and instead had to create a similar-sounding song.

2012 is totally worth $16 at the movies. It feels like a video-game with some pretty annoying things to say about how women should look after the kids and not take any independent action, but it blows stuff up amazingly. A really (often unintentionally) funny film, with the best cast of actors of any Roland Emmerich film so far.

I still like Miami Vice, but I suspect my opinion may change after a few more viewings. Perhaps it is the The Phantom Menace of Michael Mann films.

12 Monkeys is a movie I'd forgotten I'd owned. It gets increasingly strong as the film goes along, and Bruce Willis gets saner and saner. I'm not a fan of overly expressive camera angles, but I am a fan of doom.

Last Days is Gus van Sant's take on Kurt Cobain's suicide. I got through about half of it before having to turn it off. While it's brilliantly shot, performed and written, with a really quiet quiet way about it, Last Days was just taking me into an emotional place that I didn't want to go.

The Waters of Mars had some nice scary imagery in it - reminiscent of The Event, actually - but overall felt like stuff I'd seen before. Loved the final two or three minutes though. The Doctor as 'arrogant' is something I'd like to see more of, and I can't wait for the fifth Dr Who special.

Torchwood: Children of Earth. I don't know if I'm on the record about Torchwood, but I don't think it works as a show. Season 1 veered between broad comedy and OTT angst; while it had a few good episodes, I found Season 1 so inconsistent that I didn't even bother watching its finale. I certainly didn't bother watching any of Season 2. So bear that in mind when I say that Torchwood: Children of Earth, a 5-part mini-series about alien abduction. Is. Fucking. Awesome. If you're in to dark British SF at all, it's a must-see.

Enemy of the State is a movie I've only watched in bits and pieces before. Having now sat through the whole thing, I feel exactly the same way. It's excellently crafted to stress you out though, and quite amazing in how quickly (and implausibly) they make scenes move through plot points in order to destroy Will Smith's life.

Zombieland is one of the feel-good films of the year. The way it turns zombies into an element of the setting, rather than a threat helps focus the story on the survivors and their rom-com / buddy movie relationships. Also: a fascinating example of how you can make splatter completely acceptable as long as you surround it with a sight gag or a really funny line of dialogue. Highly recommended.

The Plan is the final film in the Battlestar Galactica reboot. It's the story of two Cavils who find themselves in different parts of the war. I found that seeing the Galactica-based events of Season 1 from Cavil's POV gave me a lot of insight. Unfortunately, the other Cavil (based on Caprica) didn't have enough screen-time to really justify his change of character for me. As a result, I'm calling this one insightful but not essential.

I found Where the Wild Things to be a melancholic film about gently damaged people. It was not the movie I'd hoped for. Rather than being full of subtext, there were a few too many sequences for me where what was happening on screen was all that was happening - which made the movie a little too simple in places. It is, however, beautifully shot, with spectacular images, great performances and an interesting message about how complicated human relationships are. I'm torn about this one - but I'm coming down on the side of "it's good and worthwhile seeing."
It's pretty much an art film in

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The 2009 Black List: Stories I'm interested in seeing

The Black List is an annual ranking of the year's most-talked-about unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. The 2009 Black List has just been published, and I thought I'd copy down the log-lines that particularly appealed to me.

I've divided the log-lines into three groups:
  1. my favourites
  2. noteworthy premises
  3. ideas I'm totally curious about - depending on how they're executed.
As with the Scriptshadow Logline Competition, I may dig into these a bit later on to see what I can learn about my tastes in stories or hooks. In the meantime, check out the projects below and the rest of the ones on the list. What do you think?
My Favourites

Owens' Manual by Greg Ferkel
What's it about: "A mild-mannered IT guy finds an 'owners manual' to his dull life but struggles to manage the realities of it when he reaches the end of the manual."

Allies with Benefits by Elizabeth Wright Shapiro
What's it about: "The female President of The United States falls for her old college fling, the now Prime Minister of England."

Notable Premises

The Voices By Michael R. Perry
What it’s about: Jerry, a schizophrenic worker at a bathtub factory, accidentally kills an attractive woman from accounting. While trying to cover his bloody tracks, Jerry starts taking advice from his talking (and foul-mouthed) cat and dog.
The Days Before By Chad St. John
What’s it about: A man from the future keeps hopping one successive day into the past desperate to stop a vicious race of time-traveling aliens from wiping out humanity.
BURIED by Chris Sparling
"A civilian contractor in Iraq is kidnapped and awakens to find himself buried in a coffin in the desert." (I've read this. Thought it was a great, quick read and a great idea for a low-budget film: set it all in a coffin.)
JIMI by Max Borenstein
"The life story of rock legend Jimi Hendrix."
"Renko Vega, once a hero and now a rogue thief wandering the galaxy with his hyperintelligent spaceship the Jennifer 9, is forced to become a hero once again when the young daughter of the President of Earth is kidnapped." (According to Scriptshadow, this is a rolicking sci-fi action movie. The script is available for download, but I don't want to know too more about it.)
Ones I'm curious about
MIXTAPE by Stacey Menear
"A thirteen year old outcast finds a mixtape that belonged to the deceased parents she never knew, accidentally destroys it, and uses the song list to go on a journey to find all the music in an attempt to get to know her parents."
"A suburban ‘neighborhood watch’ group, actually a front for dads to get some male bonding time away from the family, uncovers a plot bent on destroying the world."
"A liberal New Yorker realizes he isn't as open-minded as he thinks he is and sets out to make a black friend."
THE GUYS GIRL by Nick Confalone and Neal Dusedau
"Three male best friends realize they’re each in love with their mutual female best friend when she gets engaged."
"Based on the comic book written by Gerard Way. After being raised by a brilliant scientist and a hyper-intelligent chimp, six super-powered former ‘child superheroes’ reunite to stop one of their own from leading a violin symphony that will destroy the world." (Obviously I've included this one for Svend)
THE HAND JOB by Maggie Carey
"A coming-of-age comedy about a teenage girl who gives her first hand job (among other life experiences)." (This one seems squicky. I'm fascinated about how you execute it without making it gross.)
THE CURSE OF MEDUSA by J Lee and Tom Welch
"An origin story of Medusa the Gorgon."
MEDIEVAL by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch
"An unlikely group of imprisoned warriors are forced on a suicide mission to steal the King's crown in order to gain their freedom. They soon realize they've been set up to take the fall for the assassination of the King."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

New Media: Create ideas that will be spread

Seth Godin gives a talk on the publishing industry that adds a powerful new question to my process of deciding which project to work on next:

Will this idea spread?
Here's the link to Seth's talk:

And here's a summary of the points he's making:

1. Ideas that spread, win.
This implies that I need to ask myself, "Is this an idea that people will want to spread?"

2. Free ideas spread better than ideas you need to pay for.

3. An idea spreads when people benefit from telling others about it.
You'll do way better if other people blog, tweet or talk about what you've created. Ideas should be designed to encourage (or make) other people write about it. Seth's talk gives 10 real world examples of how he's marketed his books.

... wait, wait, wait, I said at this point. How do you make money if you're giving your ideas away? That's when Seth completely turned the idea of publishing on its head for me.

4. You're not selling a book; you're selling a souvenir (of the experience of having read the book).
The idea is that people will want an souvenir of an experience they've already had and enjoyed. Instead of thinking you're in the business of selling books, think of yourself as being in the business of creating souvenir editions of ideas that have already spread.

Seth goes on to discuss how this is unnecessary for people who've already established themselves as a brand (Stephen King, Dan Brown, Vincent Baker, Meg Cabot). I've seen this in action for myself - I am sorely tempted to buy a paperback copy of Cory Doctorow's 'Little Brother', which he distributed for free online.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Earlier in the afternoon, Tuvalu's Prime Minister, Apisai Ielemia, said the aim should be that global temperature rises should peak at well below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which was "non-negotiable".

"This meeting is about our future existence," Ielemia said.

But New Zealand backed a 2 degree cap on temperature rise, Key said, because the harder the target, the harder it would be to get an agreement.

"I think we all understand the anxiety of some of these small island states and the very real risk that climate change presents to them, but we're also in a position where there are now 193 countries who need to collectively agree on a target that can be achieved and who are prepared to take the necessary steps in their own economies to see that target achieved.

"In my view it would be better to take a more realistic view to that and see some progress made because unless we do that then this conference is going to fail."


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interested in discussing how to organise your life?

I'm thinking about doing a series of posts about ways to organise your life so it runs more smoothly. The series would draw off books and blogs I've been reading over the last 5 years, and stuff I've been trying out in my own life. It'd cover a mix of big and small stuff, like:

- to-do lists
- managing projects
- keeping track of the big picture of what you want to do with your life
- paying bills on time

Is this something you'd be interested in? I imagine it'd depend quite a lot on people asking and answering questions in the comments, so I thought I'd throw it open for discussion now.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Media: Audience, Self-Authorisation, and the Death of Video Stores

A couple of excellent videos linked to by Bill Cunningham at Pulp 2.0.

Here's an excellent panel discussion about how to build an audience on the internet. Some points I took away from it:
  • I really like internet celebrities like Kos and Jonathon Coulton. They have a really low-key vibe about them
  • Coulton talks about building an audience by releasing a song every Friday, regardless of whether he thought it was good
  • The idea that people surf the internet by rotating through 5 to 10 bookmarks rings true for me. The trick is to get into that rotation.
  • Go and get involved in popular sites, and be available to communicate with people. Schedule time to keep in contact ... but have a 'hub', an site that's yours that people can come back to
  • Get your audience involved in a project; give them ownership of something they think is cool
  • Don't neglect to actually spend time creating
Here's the video:

This second video is about the importance of net neutrality, but I loved the first two minutes which provide inspirational examples of how easy it is to start creating web-based solutions to problems. It's helping me do some thinking about what my next New Thing might be.

And David Poland identifies something that eluded me: while everything is going to get digitally streamed to us, it's going to be increasingly difficult for third-parties like Netflix to do it. The studios who own the movies, music and TV will try to be the ones providing us with the content in order to maximise their profit. The studios will try and eliminate video stores, Fatso, and pretty much anything that draw eyeballs away from themselves.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Synopsis: Made to Stick (An Overview)

Made to Stick is the most interesting book I've read this year.(*) It shows you how to make your arguments and presentations more memorable and more believable.

(*) 'Made to Stick' ties with 'In Praise of Slow' for the book I've read this year that's been most useful in my life.

The authors, two brothers called Chip and Dan Heath, describe six principles that make your story 'sticky'. By 'sticky', they mean that an audience is likely to remember what you've said, believe what you've said, and then tell other people what you've said.

The six principles are:
  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories
In the spirit of using acronyms to help you remember, the Heath brothers point out that these six principles spell out 'SUCCESs'.

I'm going to go into more detail on each principle in later posts. For now, here's a preview:

Simplicity: you need to create a proverb
In order to make your message sticky, your message needs to simple and profound. Easy to remember and easy to pass on. A good example of what you're aiming for is a proverb (for instance, 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you').

To achieve this simplicity, you'll need to be ruthless in your efforts to reduce your message to its core. You'll need to exclude everything that doesn't matter.

Unexpectedness: this sub-heading demonstrates my point
People will remember your message if you suprise them. Be counter-intuitive; violate their expectations.

You can also ask questions that reveal to your audience they have gaps in their knowledge. That generates interest and curiousity, and they'll listen to you as you fill those gaps.

Concreteness: talk about people, not percentages
You need to explain your ideas at a human, everyday level. Use real examples, vivid images, and natural speech.

Credibility: how do you make people believe you?
This section talks about how to craft your message so that it helps people test your idea for themselves.

Emotions: how do you make someone care?
Mother Teresa once said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will."

You make someone care by making them feel. We are wired to feel things for people: specific people, who are known to us, or seem real. It's not easy for us to feel something for a mass of people or an abstraction.

Stories: preparing us for action
Stories teach us how to act once we believe in the message.

Keep a message simple so that people can remember it and pass it on. Craft your message so that people want to learn more, believe what you're saying, and know what you want them to do next.

Why do we need these principles?

Can you remember ever explaining something and then suddenly realising that your audience wasn't really following what you were saying?

Specifically, can you remember doing stuff like:

  • discovering while you were talking that there was something vital they needed to know in order to understand your point
  • using jargon
  • assuming your audience knew about things that had happened earlier in the week
  • skipping over the basics and discussing reasonably advanced or complicated details
  • not finishing sentences, because it was very clear in your own head what you meant
  • realising that you'd told the story out of order
The Heath brothers call this "the Curse of Knowledge". This is a flaw common to most people (I certainly have it): we forget what it's like to NOT know something. As a result, we forget what it's like to know absolutely nothing about the things we're interested in.

The six principles are weapons that can be used to fight the curse of knowledge and create a story that your audience can follow, understand, remember and spread.

I'll dig into them in later posts. In the meantime, here' sTrent's review of 'Made to Stick', over at The Simple Dollar.

Here are my first impressions of the book.

I first mentioned Made to Stick way back when I was synopsising Presentation Zen.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Under the Dome: The Conclusion

As I mentioned in the previous post, Stephen King's is a 900 page novel about a small town that's been cut off from the outside world by an invisible force-field. By the time we hit pages 600 to 700, Under the Dome has to resolve three big questions:

+ What is the Dome?
+ Will they get out?
+ How will the political situation in the town be resolved?

I felt the end of Under the Dome was a bit of a let-down, actually. The book spents most of its length setting up a series of impossible-to-resolve-happily relationships, bringing everybody into conflicts that seem like they will only be resolvable through extended guerilla warfare and public executions. King instead chooses to spin this around and in one vividly written sequence refocuses the story on three scattered groups of people, and chooses to completely ignore the conflicts between them.

I'm being intentionally vague about this section of the book, because I don't want to spoil anything. However, this choice removes a lot of the Lord of the Flies-esque tension I saw in the premise of the book. I have heard that a TV series version of Under the Dome is being planned, and I can totally get behind that as a concept - using the novel as a starting point, I think there's a lot of tensions that can be explored (and subplots that can be invented) that will give this story the sense of epic scale that I sense its striving for.

In fact, if I were to sum up the reason why I don't think Under the Dome quite works as spectacularly as I think it should, it's that it feels caught between doing two things well: being an extremely fast-paced airport novel about people under pressure versus being a mean-spirited and leisurely observer of humans trying not to give in to the worst elements of their nature.

I also think that it doesn't play hardball enough. I won't go into details, but at about page 500 I started giggling because I thought I'd figured out where the novel was going to go. It suddenly occured to me that in the sort of novel King was writing, there was actually no guarantee that any particular character would survive. (And no particular reason for them to, either - this is a pretty great example of an ensemble cast of characters.) The story is primed to deliver a sucker-punch of such magnitude that it'd leave the reader reeling, wondering what would happen next. I leave it to you to discover what actually happens.

As for the resolution to the story: What is the Dome? Do they get out? ...

... You might remember I pointed out that this town exists in the same universe as Castle Rock and Derry. The long-term King reader might also note that this implies it exists in the same universe as Haven - which in turn implies a pretty neat explanation for the existence of the Dome.

(But that's not where the story goes.)

I was actually fine with the explanation for why the Dome exists, and the finale reveals that the whole novel has an admirable thematic consistency - it's a nice examination of hate and empathy, qualities that all the characters have been touched by.

In total, I enjoyed Under the Dome but felt it played a little too safe. A slow start, an INCREDIBLE middle section, and a resolution that I felt deflated a lot of the tension that had been built up. (However, that resolution did contain a great little scene in a fallout shelter.)

I'm looking forward to re-reading this one.