Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

An Essay by M. Robert Turnage

When you are younger, summer vacation is a great oasis of sloth. When you are a grown up summer vacation lasts only a week and usually involves catching up on all the errands you have been putting off for the past three years.

Last week, I went with the family to the Oregon coast, and catching up with the family is an errand I have been putting off for the past three years.

There were six of us in all - both of the Folks, my brother, Will (aka Wubbahed aka Williepie), his lovely wife, Kat (aka Katpie), and my lovely wife, Mrs. Wonderifical-Turnage.

Why the Oregon coast?

Well, how about this:


Or this:


Or this:


It was mad glorious beautiful everywhere, even though the fishing docks smelled like… fishing docks.

On our first day there, we looked out window of our room and saw a pirate ship.

Pirate Ship

I have no idea if the boat was out there promoting a movie or not, but if the movie had adult content in it, it would have to be rated “Arrrrrrrr!”

We went on a lot of hiking trails. On one of them, my brother tried to take a picture of this ugly plant with his extremely cool Nokia N95. “I’m trying to get my macro settings to work.” With a casual, “Oh, you mean like this?” I turned on my camera’s macro settings and took this picture.


We went out in a boat for some whale watching. Whale watching is really fun, but not the best thing in the world to photograph. Whales move fast and you can’t really predict where they will come up. Plus, the pictures don’t capture the motion, noise, and sheer excitement of a whale going, “PSSSHHHHHHHHH!!!!”


Here is a great picture of the back of my Mom’s hair in crystal clear focus, while the mighty gray whale is blurry in the background. Truly, I have missed my calling as a professional photographer. Mall Santas everywhere are weeping.


Here is a sea lion on a buoy.


We went to the aquarium, which was fun, but most of the animals living there came from the harbor that was all of ¼ mile away. So we paid money to see the same sea lions that were sunning on the rocks just outside the aquarium.

Sea Lion

Having said that, the sea lions were pretty cool. So were the sea otters.

Sea Otter

They also had a Giant Squid-o-Meter. It looks like six of me would equal one giant squid.


While at the same time, it would take eight of my lovely wife to make one giant squid.


Sadly, during our aquarium tour the disembodied shark teeth ate my brother’s hand. While posing for this picture, other aquarium patrons just laughed and laughed at his misery.


Here is the jigsaw puzzle I finished. Sure, Mom, and Williepie did the borders and large chunks of the image, but I put in the final piece. So, technically, I finished the puzzle.

Puzzle I Finished

My brother accidentally left his extremely cool Nokia N95 sitting around, making it very easy for me to pick up.

Playin wit yo Nokia N95

It is a great little phone. In the short time I handled it, I was able to send a high-priority text message to everyone in his address book. The text message? “From now on, please do not call me Williepie – CALL ME SILLIEPIE!”

His boss seemed to appreciate it most of all.

Love at First Sight

Their big googly eyes met from across the room. With the rich smell of butter sauce in the air, they took tentative sideways-steps towards each other. Love at first sight was never this tasty.

Love at First Sight

Someone told me that the calories you consume on vacation do not count. Good Lord, I hope so.

Just Desserts

Somewhere in there, I drank beer from the local brewery as well as a nice little concoction called Moose Drool. It tasted better than it sounds.

In conclusion, I like vacations.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This is a Million Times Better Than Those "Peeing on a Ford" Stickers

When You Talk to Me and Say Something Clever, Chances are It Will Eventually Wind up in the Blog

Me: I know I come across as crabby and opinionated, but I really don't want to offend people. So, could you answer a question for me? What is the right way to refer to you? Should I use "black" or "African-American?"

Friend: I prefer to be called Larry.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Surprisingly Good Criticism from Slamdance

Several months ago, I wrote a short film screenplay, that I happened to like. I entered it in a few contests and got bummed out because it didn't even place.

So I submitted the almost very same short film screenplay (except I changed the "Working" in the title to the folksier "Workin'") to the Slamdance Film Festival and paid the extra few dollars for some feedback. I consider it money well spent. The reviewer even quoted Thoreau, which is always a plus.

I like this feedback so much, I don't mind so much if the script doesn't win, place or show. There are always more scripts and more contests.

So... here is the screenplay.

And here is the feedback:

Slamdance Screenplay Competition
Coverage for Workin' Girl (Reader #55031)

Melissa is a struggling actress who works as a waitress to pay the bills. The first act (pages 1 - 5) essentially works at developing her character and does so efficiently. The first conflict arrises when her boss gives her a double shift and she must A) convince him to let her out B) make the audition with the time given her. It's a race against the clock and because of the earlier character build up showing just how much she wants to act, the tension is palpable. Act two is the audition. Melissa sees a coworker there - a young ditz with little passion or respect for the craft. That she has no talent as an actress will, ironically, be dependant on the performance of the young woman who plays the character. Following the audition, Shannon gives Melissa a ride back to work. Act three is the reveal: Melissa got a role! But not the one she wanted. That went to Shannon and so stamps the film with the old addage: "Nobody said life is fair." It's not, clearly. Here lies the largest conflict for the main character: give in or keep trying? Thankfully Melissa keeps trying, but in such a way that we are never told explicitly that things will be okay, but rather a message is hinted that the true value contained in life is not the achievement but the trying. Ultimately, this provides a beautiful end to an deftly handled but otherwise traditional story.

What works:

The writer is to be congratulated in the way by which they reveal the character of Melissa in the opening act. Little things like the different accent for each table and the "campaign" for more hours are good ways of illustrating her as hard working, creative, and in need of money. She say a lot without saying a lot, which is one of the primary rules of good writing and the author does that exceptionally well here. The End: This isn't the first script written about a struggling actor, nor will it be the last. What sets this one apart from the bunch is not just the lack of happy ending / resolution, but the characters heartwarming desire to push on. It's a banner for hardwork and optimism which can come across as sentimental and "light" if done poorly, but can also come across as inspirational and real, when done well, as it is done here.

What doesn't work:
Something abstract and something simple. Your biggest issue lies with originality. That isn't to say that this is not a unique piece of writing. It is. But it retains the frame work of the traditional "struggling actor story." Luckily your characters excede this limitation, but the confines of a 10 page script still hold them back. Consider a wider scope in a future draft. There are a few instances where the author allows potential plot twists and turns to go unrealized. It's not something that is done wrong per se, just something which could be done better. The piece is extremely tight, but in some instances that actually works against you. As an experiment, consider everything that could possibly go wrong in Melissa's day and write that in. The boss says No. The scooter gets a flat, runs out of gas. She leaves her makeup behind. Arrives late. Wrong building etc. Etc. You provide plenty of internal hurdles for the character, now provide a few more external ones.

How it can be improved:

The most basic element is originality. Of course, every story has been told before so you're not likely to write something entirely new. However, the script as it is has enough going for it that it could stand to benefit from a longer draft with a deeper more personal exploration of the characters. Not to get too academic here, but Henry David Thoreau said something once that I (if I may use the singular) always liked: "...for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me." In other words, the author in encouraged to allow themselves the time and leeway to make a fully personal realization of the character which have up until now been sketched in compelling but still broad outlines. You may perhaps do a rewrite of it in a pilot format (roughly 30 pages). As it is and with the ending you've allowed, it may make for an interesting TV show. Also, a small thing: you may consider using the second shift as a more dynamic hurdle to be overcome. Some maneuvering and scheming might add to the sense of urgency and keep the audience on their seat for just those extra few minutes.

Next step:
This reader's reccomendation: do a rewrite as a thirty page pilot. This is much more likely to be noticed as a TV show than as a short.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

In Defense of Film Snobbery

Background information:

Balding Angrily Alex
recently wrote a typo-laden article for the Filmspotting newsletter, The Dope Sheet.

Normally, this would not be cause for alarm, except for the fact that he came out and called me a Film Snob. And just recently, MichaelVox on the Cinebanter podcast (Show # 26 to be exact) ALSO called me a Film Snob.

Personally, I don't think anyone with Xanadu in his film collection qualifies as an out-and-out Film Snob.

However, seeing how the gauntlet was thrown down at my feet (or, more accurately, directly at my face), I decided to write a rebuttal.

It appears in this week's edition of The Dope Sheet.

And I share it with you here.

The Joys of Film Snobbery

Film Snobs get a bad rap. We are the people who drone on and on about lighting and symbolism, often using words like "droll." We berate you for laughing at Will Ferrell; we peer down our nose at you when Tom Hanks is mentioned; and we only like directors whose names you can't pronounce. We suck all the joy out of your love of movies. We are the proverbial downers.

What gives? The best way to describe the Film Snob situation is to liken it to the great con game we call golf. No one likes golf; it is a terrible affront to all things living. It barely qualifies as a sport. But to point out the obvious is to confess that you don't know "the secret handshake of the rich and powerful." That's right. By perpetuating the myth that golf is vaguely interesting -- maybe even going as far as to say that golf makes your toes tingle -- there is a good chance you will get invited to a Country Club. Country Clubs are incredible places where food is plentiful and the rich and beautiful just lounge around, looking for someone to financially subsidize and/or marry. All you have to do to be a part of this exclusive club is to rhapsodize for at least 20 minutes about your grip and the power of your backswing.

Film Snobbery is a secret handshake in the film community. When you are a Film Snob, doors open up to you, allowing you into a cinematic Country Club. Directors mention you on their commentary tracks. Movie marketing reps send you to test screenings. People you don't know shovel piles of DVDs into your car, whispering things like, "I think you'll like these Asian imports. They're very symbolic."

"Very symbolic" is Film Snob code word for "lots of boobies and swears." In fact, 99.9% of all of the high-minded Film Snobbery jargon roughly translates to "lots of boobies and swears." "Boy, that actress gave a brave performance," means, "that movie has lots of boobies and swears." So does, "She is willing to go to a dark place." Seriously, next time you hear a Film Snob say, "I really enjoyed the cinematography," what the Film Snob means is "Dude, there were a lot of boobies and swears."

But how will your social standing be if you used the words "boobies and swears" all the time? As in, "Hey, let's all go out to the theater and check out a long series of boobies and swears? It'll be fun!" That may fly in various fraternity houses, but the real world is a little trickier.

So a Film Snob lexicon was developed. Please allow me to demonstrate how it works.

One time, I wanted to see "Species," a movie that practically guaranteed to be chock full of boobies and swears. My girlfriend-at-the-time told me no way, that we shouldn't see it because it (and I quote) "looks stupid."

"Oh no. It is really a feminist treatise on the plight of the female identity in a contemporary society. The alien monster protagonist is the personification of a cultural anxiety that results in a conflict between societal pressures and a genetic determinism that forces women into dual-yet-conflicting roles of both mother and sex object. The monster-movie veneer is simply to trick the populace into consuming these culturally-challenging and cutting edge ideas. It is very deep and has a rich subtext. I understand Natasha Henstridge gives a very brave performance throughout the film. She is an actress willing to take it to a dark place."

After the movie, she was livid. "What do you mean 'feminist treatise'? It was nothing but a bunch of boobies and swears!"

"You have got to be kidding me??!!! There was a rich subtext to it. Didn't you notice the cinematography? They were ON A TRAIN for cryin' out loud! It was symbolism!"

At that moment, one-half of a nearby couple pointed to me and went, "See honey! He saw the symbolism, too! You can't tell me there wasn't any!" Yes, it was another Film Snob.

Like wild loons responding to a mating call, the Film Snob and I quickly huddled together, sharing innermost thoughts about brave actresses willing to go to a dark place. By the end of our Film Snob conversation, I had a handful of free movie passes, a stack of import Asian DVDs, and a book-length essay by Lars von Trier about the sheer drollness of Meg Ryan.

Truly, that was one of the best nights of my life. The only thing that could have made it better was if I had a chance to talk about my backswing. Maybe then I would have been invited to the Country Club.

If Somehow I Could Use Skills Like These On The Job

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I Promise I'm Working on More Blog Posts

Until I actually have a presentable blog post, here is a little song: