Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why I Like Formulas

I can be a jerk sometimes when it comes to entertainment, because it is not enough for you to like the right movies and television shows, but you have to like them for the right reasons as well. (I am working on this, but it is hard.)

If you like don't like Pulp Fiction because it is a meditation on the American identity from a class and race perspective, ultimately drawing the conclusion that what makes us truly Americans is our shared love popular culture, and instead like the movie because it is freakin' cool how Bruce Willis chops The Gimp with a samurai sword, I will probably tell you I am not a big fan of Quentin Tarantino's work.

(Although, truth be told, I freakin' love Pulp Fiction because it is a mediation on the American identity from a class and race perspective, ultimately drawing the conclusion that what makes us truly Americans is our shared love of popular culture. And, ok, that samurai sword bit was kinda freakin' awesome, but only because it was SYMBOLIC.)

I am a horrible snob about some things and try to keep this in check. Sometimes it eeks out. For example, when someone dismisses a movie or television show because it is too formulaic, I go nuts.

My quip is usually a sarcastic, "Well, yeah. Because dramatic structure is never formulaic." Then I roll my eyes. Then I look down my nose. Then I point to their shirt and say, "You've got something right the- OOOOP!" and I flip their nose as soon as they begin to look down. Because that is the formulaic behavior of someone who is being a condescending jerk.

Formulas are great. No one should complain about something being formulaic because the fundamentals of storytelling can be distilled into simple formulas. Three Act Structure. Five Act Structure. Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, but Boy Finds Girl Again and Girl Turns Out to be a Killer Robot from the Future. These stories have been with us since the Ancient Greeks and probably earlier. As long as Robot Girlfriends are going back in time, we will have formulas.

I can understand how someone might get perturbed because they understand the formula enough to predict what is going to happen thus destroying any sense of tension and drama, but the criticism should not be leveled at the formula, but the execution of the formula. People know how Romeo and Juliet is going to end, but that doesn't stop them from watching it again with different actors. Don't blame the structure, blame the interpretation.

For someone who aspires to be a creative writer in the mediums of film and/or television, it is important not only to respect formulas, but to be able to interact with them and make them your own. Understand the rules of this particular universe and add variables that are uniquely your own.

Of course, all of the blog post up to this point is a ruse to trick everyone into hearing me talk about things I have written.

To become a television writer, you have to write scripts for existing shows and add them to your portfolio. This shows agents and people who might hire you that you have a fundamental understanding of the characters, the expectations, and the limitations of the show. In other words, you show how well do you use the formula.

Because I am bored a lot and because I daydream about being an underpaid and overworked television writer, I have written two such scripts for my portfolio, an Arrested Development script and an Office script. I shall now pitch you the scripts and you can determine how closely I was able to adhere to the formulas for each show.

If you are not familiar with the shows, this is going to sound like utter gobbeldygook. However, if you have seen these shows, imagine how these ideas fit in with a typical episode. And if you think I missed the mark, feel free to tell me how. I won't be getting a job in the entertainment industry any time soon, so telling me I don't have a future in Los Angeles will not hurt my feelings.

Arrested Development - Gob wants money so he can open a woman's clothing store named Perfectly Fit. The idea is that there is only one size of clothing available, and it is GOB's idea of what a perfectly fit woman's proportions should be. Michael misinterprets an overheard conversation and thinks George Michael wants to become a male model. Michael agrees to fund Gob's venture if he hires George Michael as a male model. Buster has an uncomfortable moment in a men's room which leads to him getting a stalker.

The Office - The Friday before Labor Day, Michael has accidentally approved vacation for everyone, giving everyone the office (except him and Dwight) a four-day weekend. No one is there to attend the Labor Day party Michael was planning (this year's theme - "Going into Labor"). So Michael and Dwight go from house to house, telling people to come back into the office and have some fun before they have their now three-day weekend. Stanley tries to have a barbecue.

So there you go. Formulas in action! Thank you for your time.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Facebook Shennanigans

This is an example of what happens when you are friends with your parents on Facebook.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Microwave Etiquette

I work in a building that has roughly one microwave for every 60 or 70 people. And out of those 60 or 70 people, maybe 5 of them know how to use proper microwave etiquette.

So. As a public service. Here are some simple guidelines to follow. By doing so, the person behind you in line is not as likely to kill you.

1) When in doubt, use the Popcorn button.

Back in the day when people wrote Lean Cuisine instructions, microwaves looked like this:

Now they look like this:

Microwave programming technology has just exploded the last decade, going leaps and bounds past the Lean Cuisine cooking instruction technology. So when the Lean Cuisine cooking instructions tell you to microwave on HIGH for three minutes, it is quite possible to look on the microwave and not see a HIGH button and sometimes not even see a place to put in three minutes.

When this is the case, just hit the Popcorn button.

If you open up the microwave and the food is still cold, just press the Popcorn button again. That is why the Popcorn button is there, not to make popcorn, but to be the place where you go when you don't know what else to do.

2) Stopping the microwave 5 seconds before it is done DOES NOT HELP ANYONE.

When there is a line of people waiting and everyone is staring at the microwave clock, counting down along with the display, there is a lot of pressure and anticipation. I know all of this attention might make you think they all wish the microwave would just go ahead and beep so they could put their own food in it. And I know you might think stopping the microwave with five seconds left would make everyone sigh with relief, knowing that they will not get to eat five seconds quicker than before.

You would be wrong.

Watching the countdown is a group bonding experience. Everyone feels like it is New Years Eve, counting in unison from ten to one and ending in a satisfying beep. Stopping the microwave before this interrupts the flow and makes everyone a little dissatisfied with the entire microwave experience.

PLUS, it leaves the time on the microwave, so someone will have to clear out the old time before pressing the Popcorn button. So your lame-o attempt to save everyone five seconds results in creating a lot more than five seconds waiting time for the line.

So just don't do it.

3) If you have one of those meals that require you to stir and heat again, let people know this.

A lot of meals need to be tested or stirred before they can be eaten. If this is one of those meals (for example, if you are using the Popcorn button on a seven-layer lasagna and don't know if it will be done after one round of Popcorn buttoning or two), then let people how it is. No one will mind as much as they will mind hearing the satisfying beep thinking their food is going in next and then realizing that they have to wait one more Popcorn cycle before being able to heat their foods.

Don't toy with people's emotions like this.

4) Don't leave the microwave unattended until you have your hot food.

This goes for everyone - people at the microwave and people waiting in line. I know our lives are so incredibly busy we cannot wait in line for three cycles of Popcorn buttoning, but that is why you have a Blackberry or an iPhone. And if you don't have some sort of mobile device, then come with a book or a sudoku puzzle.

The trick is not to leave the line. The purpose of the line is to establish an order of people waiting for the microwave. If there is a cloud of people mingling around the microwaves, coming and going and hoping the microwaves will be magically available three to six minutes later, you are just living a fool's dream. And you will probably die in line for the microwave.

5) If you leave the microwave unattended, you lose your right to throw a hissy fit.

If your food is in the microwave and you walk away, only to come back later and find your food on the counter, cooled to the point where you have to microwave it again, you do not have the right to yell at the person using the microwave now. You do not have the right to cut in the line for the microwave just to reheat your food a little.

You only have the right to go to the end of the line and patiently wait your turn. You cannot complain. You cannot sigh heavily or roll your eyes. You have lost and have to restart.

Same goes for waiting in line. If you are waiting in line and leave for some reason, you do not magically get your place back in line. And don't ask someone to save your place in line. I know these are the general rules for lines - you can ask someone to save your place and you get cutsies if you need them. But we are talking about food, here. We are talking about LUNCH in the OFFICE. This is the only touch of joy some people get in their days, so respect that.

6) Make sure everyone is aware of the line.

When someone comes by on a cellphone and cuts in front of everyone else, pretending that he didn't see anyone because he is SO DAMN FOCUSED ON HIS CONVERSATION THAT HE DOESN'T NOTICE THE GROUP OF PEOPLE WAITING FOR THE MICROWAVE, violence is permissible. Sporks can cause some real damage if used properly.

Cellphones do not magically give people a pass on the rules of the line. And if someone is speaking loudly, this does not strengthen the magic cellphone bubble around that person - it just means the person is an insufferable jerk and nothing will penetrate their self-absorbed cloud of obnoxiousness except the pain brought on by a good spork to the face.

Because if that person was really all that important, that person would have an assistant or a catered lunch. That person would not need to be in line for the microwave.

7) Don't burn the popcorn.

Seriously, the Popcorn button works for a reason. Mucking with anything else is just asking for trouble. And burnt popcorn is a dang-nasty smell. No one likes smelling that, and you don't want to be known as the person who causes noxious fumes in the office.

Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Fun Little Book for Film Obsessives

I am obsessed with movies. So when I read Zeroville by Steve Erikson and discovered within a few pages that the main character is obsessed with movies, I said, "Hey, this guy is like me." I then showed chunks of text to the Mrs. and she said, "That certainly sounds like you."

And then, about halfway through the book I realize that the main character is supposed to be emotionally disturbed on a deep, fundamental level. Ach.

I read to connect with other people. I am not good when I talk about the weather or how your kids are doing in school or about this darn economy. But get me talking about books or film or the ideas behind them and -WHOA NELLY- stand back because I won't shut up.

In January '08 I heard a podcast from Karina Longworth about how she was visiting the Sundance film festival and realized the spirit of American Independent film was not on the screen as much as in a book she was reading in the hotel room at the end of the day.

I had to read that book.

Zeroville is a ready-made story for film obsessives. The main character is a film obsessive and the entire book is written with a series of oblique, unexplained references to film history and Hollywood lore. (Seriously, if you don't know the story about the film print of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, major plot points will be lost on you.)

Vikar, the main character shaves his head and tattoos Montgomery Clift on one half of his scalpand Elizabeth Taylor on the other half. He does this in honor of his favorite movie, A Place in the Sun. In one of the opening scenes, someone thinks the tattoos are of Nathalie Wood and James Dean, and that person gets beaten with a lunch tray because Rebel Without a Cause (Two-Disc Special Edition) is not a very good movie.

Then it gets stranger.

Vikar moves to Hollywood the weekend of the Manson murders and stays there into the 1980s. While there, he meets many different directors, editors, producers, and actors, some real, some fictional. Vikar gets involved with the film industry as works as an editor, not so much to create films but to feed his film obsession.

The book is about what it is to be obsessed with movies and what a beautiful yet horrible thing that can be. There are some scenes of frank violence interspersed between passages of very beautiful discussions of what makes art powerful.

If I were going to lob any complaints at the book, it would be that it falls into a few cutesy post-modern traps. The chapter numbers go up to a certain point, and then start descending. So you read Chapters 1 through 227 and then start reading from Chapter 227 back down to Chapter 1. And the ending of the book falls a little flat. But that is not what makes the book special.

What makes it special is that it articulates the joy, the passion, and a bit of the madness that it takes to be completely obsessed with movies.

In other words, I recommend this book.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Trailer to Make Up for the Last Post

As lame as that last post was, this trailer is the inverse proportion of awesome.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Terrible Waste of Everyone's Time

I get a lot of bad ideas. Unlike most people, I nurture these bad ideas and then dump them on this blog.

I was up past midnight a few nights ago when a phenomenally bad idea struck me.

What if Rick Springfield was a Smurf?

In case you don't know, Rick Springfield is a musician primarily known for the rock anthem dedicated to envy and lust, "Jessie's Girl."

The Smurfs were a cartoon where each Smurf had a single defining characteristic which was part of his name (e.g. Brainy Smurf, Farmer Smurf, Hefty Smurf etc.). There was only one female Smurf (Smurfette) and she didn't date anyone because the other Smurfs got jealous.

So instead of being jealous of a relationship, Rick Springfield Smurf would have to be jealous of another Smurf. And, quite possibly, Rick Springfield Smurf would want to simultaneously want to love this Smurf and kill this Smurf and take his place.

And so Rick Springfield Smurf would write this song:

Jokey Smurf

By Rick Springfield Smurf

Jokey is a Smurf,
Yeah, you know he's been a good Smurf of mine.
But lately something's changed
That ain't hard to define
Jokey has an attitude that really should be mine.
And he's always got a surprise.
But is is really a bomb
I just know it.
And he never has a dark depressing night.

You know I wish that I was Jokey Smurf.
I wish that I was Jokey Smurf.
Why can't I be a Smurf like that?

I play along with the charade,
there doesn't seem to be a reason to change
You know, I feel so dirty
When he starts acting cute
I wanna secretly take his place,
But the point is probably moot
'Cos he's always got a surprise
But is is really a bomb
I just know it
And he never has a dark depressing night.

That Jokey Smurf,
I wish that I was Jokey Smurf.
Why can't I be a Smurf?
Why can't I be a Smurf like that?

And I'm lookin' in the mirror all the time,
Wondering what the Smurfs don't see in me
I've been funny,
I've been cool with the lines
Ain't that the way
Smurfs're supposed to be
Tell me, why can't I be a Smurf like that?


You know, I wish that I was Jokey Smurf,
I wish that I was Jokey Smurf
I hate Jokey Smurf,
Why can't I be a Smurf like that, like
Jokey Smurf,
I wish that I was Jokey Smurf,
I want,
I want Jokey Smurf.

Welcome to 2009!

So here we are at the first post of the new year. I don't normally make resolutions, but rather set goals for the year.

This year there are some pretty big things items on the agenda.

The first third of the year involves me finishing, publishing, and publicizing my book. I don't want to talk about it too much now, because everyone is going to be sick of hearing about it once the book is out. I wanted to have this out by Thanksgiving, but couldn't maintain a level of work/life balance to keep on schedule.

The second third of the year contains the possibility that I will be involved with founding and chairing a film festival. Details are sketchy at this time, and it may not happen, but still, it is an exciting opportunity.

The third chunk of this year will focus on more personal development. I intend to go back to school and begin a higer-level degree that should directly impact the big pile of awesomeness that is my career.

This year also marks the tenth year of dating my then girlfriend/now wife. Not quite sure how we will celebrate that milestone, but it should be special.

Of course, I state all of these plans knowing full well they could not happen or fail spectacularly. That is the frightening and wonderful thing about the future, who knows what will happen?

And, of course, I plan to lose 20 pounds, read more, and post more things to this blog. But I know that probably won't happen.