Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Write By Number

CE Jenkins

          Yes, the title is a pun. I regret nothing.

          Seriously though, I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have an iPod. How did I make an entrance before I could push both double-doors open at the same time with the Lord of the Rings soundtrack playing in the background? Those were dark times. I will admit, I am a music buff in the same way that Gaston was a fine arts buff—anything with a catchy beat is fair game. And some haters might criticize for all the terrible music I listen to, but I’m afraid I can’t hear them over the Prince of Egypt soundtrack blasting in my ears.

          In some ways, writing with music in the background can be a good way to get into the writerly mood. On the other hand, listening to the wrong music for a scene can stop up the tubes faster than a family fourthmeal at Taco Bell. Katy Perry does very little for dramatic deathbed speeches. Trust me on this.

          Other times it’s nice to write in silence, but speaking from the POV of a college student living in a dorm where one false move could punch a hole through the paper screens they call walls, that’s not always an option. Not to mention the fact that sometimes I can’t hear my own thoughts over the sound of my other thoughts talking too loud. For those cases I find throwing on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and cranking up the tunes is a workable solution.

          So, with that in mind, here are some songs that I personally enjoy listening to while writing certain moods or scenes. Lots of them are from movie soundtracks, which I find especially useful since they often don’t have vocals and instead focus entirely on the feeling of the scene; as a result, in this case I chose songs based on their general sound as opposed to their lyrics.

            Keep in mind that these are my personal picks, and not an objective list. You may like some of them, you may hate all of them; just give a few a listen to see what you think, and hopefully you’ll find something useful. This list is subject to change; if you have your own song to recommend, leave it in the comments and I’ll check it out.

Good for writing fights, chases, high energy stuff.

·         A.R. Rahman & MIA, O…Saya: link
·         Audioslave, Gasoline: link
·         Joan Jett, Bad Reputation: link
·         Chemical Brothers, Escape 700: link
·         Florence + the Machine, Heartlines: link
·         Deadmau5, Ghosts N Stuff (ft Rob Swire): link
o   Extended Cut: link
·         Lady Gaga, Judas: link
·         Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Threshold: link
·         Metallica, For Whom the Bell Tolls: link
·         Restruct, Change: link
·         The White Stripes, Seven Nation Army (Glitch Mob Remix): link
·         Daft Punk, Derezzed: link

For intense scenes with a slightly slower pace.
·         AWOLNation, Sail: link
·         Florence + the Machine, the Dogs Days Are Over: link.
·         Oh Land, Sun of a Gun: link
·         Johnny Hollow, This Hollow World: link
·         Loreena Mckennitt, Kecharitomene: link
·         Muse, Undisclosed Desires: link
·         Vanessa Carlton, Dark Carnival: link
·         Frou Frou, Holding Out for a Hero: link
·         Birthday Massacre, Pins and Needles: link
·         Bear Mccreary, All Along the Watchtower: link
·         Eminem, Lose Yourself: link

Scenes that are generally upbeat, but sometimes with a darker undertone. Yes, I know that description makes no sense. Words are hard.
·         Hugo, 99 Problems: link
·         Per Qualche Dollaro in PiĆ¹: link
·         How to Train Your Dragon, New Tail: link
·         Johnny Clegg, Brave New World: link
·         MIA, Paper Plaines: link
·         MGMT, Kids: link
·         Muse, Feeling Good: link
·         Jesca Hoop, Tulip: link
·         Jonsi, Sticks & Stones: link
·         Brother Bear, Transformation: link

Songs with a medium pace and a more minor key.
·         Loreena Mckennit, Mystic’s Dream: link
·         Imogen Heap, Canvas: link
·         Shiny Toy Guns, Cold War: link
·         Emiliana Torrini, Gollum’s Song: link
·         The Gravel Road: link
·         Lisbeth Scott, Where: link
·         District 9: link
·         Mountains of Thunder: link

It's like viagra for the written word!
·         Beyonce, Halo: link
·         The Beatles, Hello Goodbye: link
·         Queen, Somebody to Love: link
·         Barry Manilow, Can’t Smile Without You: link
·         The Cranberries, Dreams: link
·         Jason Mraz, Plain Jane: link
·         American Mouth, Flightless Bird: link
·         James Horner & Celine Dion, My Heart Will Go On: link

These songs contain a lot of motion and a steady rhythm that goes well with writing travel scenes. I threw in a couple with more exotic sounds as well.
·         Rusted Root, Send Me On My Way: link
·         The Proclaimers, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles): link
·         Secret of Kells, Epicy: link
·         Two Mules For Sister Sara: link
·         Loreena Mckennitt, Marco Polo: link
·         Lebo M, I Want to See the Moon: link
·         Sanctuary Soundtrack: link

For those moments when your character isn’t jumping off the roof of a building.
·         Milagres, Glowing Mouth: link
·         The Village, Race to Resting Rock: link
·         Concerning Hobbits: link
·         Enya, One by One: link
·         Horse Feathers, Thistled Spring: link
·         How to Train Your Dragon, Romantic Flight: link
·         Jesca Hoop, Enemy: link

Slower, quieter songs. Good for scenes of death, loss, or goodbyes.
·         Black Beauty Theme: link
·         The Chronicles of Narnia, Evacuating London: link
·         Dido & A.R. Rahman, If I Rise: link
·         Gary Jules, Mad World: link
·         Pan’s Labyrinth Lullaby (instrumental): link
·         Annie Lennox, Into the West: link
·         Loreena Mckennitt, Full Circle: link
·         Dido, The Day Before the Day: link
·         The Mighty Rio Grande, This Will Destroy You: link
·         Fullmetal Alchemist OST, Bratja: link

Holy shit, that got a lot longer than expected. This is why I shouldn’t be allowed to start listing things. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Author Unknown

CE Jenkins

          Sometimes on my travels through the internet I come across something seemingly innocent that, through a sort of Ruub-Goldberg thought process of one idea pinwheeling into another, makes me pace back and forth and rant at my teddy bears for an hour and a half. But after a cooldown period of silent fuming and flash games, I think I’ve gotten to the point where I can coherently express my ideas. No promises though.

          Essentially what the offending comment implied was that artists who self promote are shallow and only in it for the attention. The issue I take with this is that it implies that if you want to be recognized for your work, you are selfish and not a real artist. So I guess all those authors and filmmakers who take credit for their pieces and make a living off of it are a bunch of dirty sellouts.

          This kind of mentality seems to run in the same vein as saying that heroes can’t take credit for their good deeds; that the satisfaction of doing something has to be enough. Anyone who stands up and sticks their name to the deed suddenly isn’t a REAL hero, just some schmuck who wants the attention. Society has this obsession with the brave knight who saves the day and then rides off into the sunset without asking for a reward. In the creative field we have a name for that kind of person: broke and undiscovered. Yes, it is wonderful to want to write or draw or cinematograph (wow, that’s actually a word) because you love doing it. That doesn’t mean it’s a sin to want people to know what you've accomplished when you're done.

          These days especially, it’s harder than ever to get exposure for your work; in the age of information, we’re so bogged down in tweets and funny cat photos to pay attention to every piece of art that flits across the screen. If artists don’t make an effort to promote themselves and make connections, it’s entirely possible that no one will ever get to see their work. While the joy of creation is great in itself, there’s nothing wrong with wanting and enjoying recognition for what you’ve done. It’s not egotistical to want other people to experience what you’ve shed blood, sweat and tears bringing into the world; otherwise what’s the point in putting it out there at all?

          I know that some people do write for themselves, and that’s perfectly fine too. Everyone has their own separate reason for doing art; but whatever an artist’s motivations may be, they don’t make the end result any less valid or beautiful. So I say, go ahead. Shout your name and novel from the highest rooftop. Title-drop in conversations. Rent a t-shirt cannon and stake out a high-traffic area. Whatever you do, do it  shamelessly. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gerd Pride

        CE Jenkins

           I love being a nerd. It’s great. Normally whenever someone gets so obsessed with something that they don a weird costume and camp out on a sidewalk for 48 hours the next logical step is a restraining order; but flash your nerd ID badge, and behavior that some would consider psychopathic becomes merely creepy. It’s like belonging to a cult, in a way; you wear costumes, speak in tongues, and convene regularly for sacred meetings at the local GameStop. And sometimes it’s all I want in the world to just get the nerdiest t-shirt I can find and plaster that logo across my chest. But thanks to the help of numerous t-shirt websites, that simple goal is a lot harder than it sounds.

          It seems like a lot of retailers are unaware of the existence of female fans. Nerdiness has always been characterized as a guy thing—I say nerd, and you probably think of a spindly dude with centimeter-thick glasses and a pocket protector. People refer generically to “fanboys”, assuming that the ladies are too busy making sandwiches to be interested in pop culture. But lately that stereotype has gotten more and more outdated, as women have taken their place alongside their male comrades in headshotting all the pathetic n00bs and storming all the conventions. Unfortunately, the media and its outlets have done little to realize this new world.

          For one, it is nearly impossible to get good merch (specifically t-shirts, because most everything else is gender-neutral). I am a chick and have the body to prove it. I don’t want to have to get by with throwing a small guy’s-cut shirt in the wash 5 times so it doesn’t look like I’m wearing a sack. Beyond that, getting nerdy girls clothing is a pain in the ass for a bunch of other reasons:

1.      Expense. For plenty of online retailers such as J!NX and ThinkGeek (both of which I love in spite of this), a woman’s shirt costs around 2-3 dollars more than a guy’s, and uses less fabric. That might not seem like a lot, but think of it this way: with the money you’d save on 3 t-shirts, you could go down to Wal-Mart and buy an Iron Man DvD.

2.      Material. The stuff they make some women’s t-shirts out of is so flimsy. Maybe they think it will stretch over our boobs better, as opposed to not ripping in half when you pull it off the hanger.

3.      Availability. I went to Adventure Island one time, and they had like 3 different comic book shops in their Marvel area. It was totally awesome, except for the fact that the only women’s t-shirts they carried all said something to the effect of “I only date superheros” or “my boyfriend has iron abs, literally!” I might find that sort of thing vapid and mildly sexist, but that’s just an opinion and I have no problem with people who do wear those shirts. I do have a problem with the manufacturers who think that the only kind of t-shirts female nerds want to wear are ones that lock them into the role of a girly sex object. Some of us actually want to wear Cap’s insignia emblazoned on our chest without the subtext implication that we’ll be banging him later on.

          The bias goes beyond the apparel section. Walk into any comic book store and flip through the covers; I’ll bet that one thing you won’t be wanting for is a plethora of unnaturally large breasts. Sometimes it seems like the majority of women in comic books have a rack comparable to if Christina Hendrix’s boobs had twins fathered by a watermelon. And on top of that they dress these characters up in skimpy outfits that are very rarely practical for punching a bad guy’s face in. Take Wonder Woman's costume, for example. I highly doubt that a nip slip is something you want to worry about while trying not to be incinerated by a death ray. Not to mention all those spinebreaking poses to show tits and ass at the same time. Seriously artists, I know proper anatomy is for losers and all but our bodies don’t actually bend that way. The problem isn't that comic book women tend to have large breasts and skimpy clothing, because there's nothing inherently sexist about that; it's that they're being exploited for their sexuality, treated merely as eye candy for an audience with a serious sweet-tooth. 

          The issues are more than just skin deep; whether it’s because many comic book authors are dudes with no clue how to write a woman, or because they think their readers have no interest in such things, strong female personalities are in short supply. Granted, there are some good ones as well: Kitty Pryde, Wonder Woman, and Barbara Gordon to name a few. But for every good female character there are a plethora of poorly written, underdeveloped, overly-sexualized ones to boot. There’s also the “women in refrigerators” conundrum, which describes the way many female characters are often ruthlessly punished or treated as plot devices to spur their manly men to action.

          One root of this problem is that the comic book industries keep assuming that their audience is composed entirely of straight dudes. There is some truth to that, of course; many women-centric comics don’t sell as well as their male-centric counterparts, and the fanbase has been an unequivocal sausagefest in the past. What I don’t understand is how alienating 50% of the population with over-sexualized and internally flawed characters is a good marketing strategy. Many women can be and already are interested in comics, and the industry could make a buttload of money off of them if they would only make more of an effort to be less gender-biased.

          Funny how whining about finding the right t-shirt size can lead to a feminist critique of the comic book industry. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How Original

       Once again we'll be extending our warmest welcome to WordMaster, who this time will be sharing her thoughts on the Academy, Oscars, and the hype that originality gets. Enjoy.

        In the world of film buffs, there are two universally acknowledged truths: first, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is narrow-minded, self-satisfied and woefully out-of-touch with reality; and second, that Hollywood has long since run out of original ideas and now exists only to churn out endless sequels, prequels, remakes and other disposable, mass-marketed drivel until society collapses under the weight of its own laziness. In short, film buffs are cynical as fuck.

         When Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon (the third movie of a franchise based on a toy) becomes the fourth highest grossing movie of all-time, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close garners an Oscar nomination for Best Picture despite boasting a whopping 46% score on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s hard not to feel a little disenchanted.  2011 featured 27 sequels, skyrocketing past the previous record (24) set in 2003, and nine of the top ten highest-grossing movies last year contained either a number or a colon in their titles. Even the only non-sequel member of that club, Thor, is technically the fourth entry in Marvel’s ridiculously lucrative series of superhero extravaganzas set to (finally!) culminate in 2012’s Joss Whedon-helmed The Avengers, which, depending on who you ask, represents either a tidal wave of awesomeness so powerful its mere existence amidst the ranks of mortals is bound to unleash upon humanity the cinematic equivalent of a nuclear holocaust, or the bloated, overhyped personification of everything wrong with modern Hollywood (Spoiler alert: it’s the first one). Compare that to 2000, when only one sequel (Mission: Impossible II) made it into the top 10, or 1998, in which not a single one of the ten highest-grossing movies of the year was a sequel, and the ultimate box office champion was Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, a multiple Oscar-winning drama about WWII.

        Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be yet another one of those sanctimonious rants about the degeneration of creativity and artistic freedom in Hollywood, though the fact that in the next three months, we will be getting a movie adaptation of a fucking board game is enough cause for a ten-page long tirade.

Seriously, people. It's happening. 

            With all this hullabaloo about sequels, remakes, prequels, reboots, sequels-to-remakes-of-reboots, etc., I feel as though people have forgotten to ask an important question: How much does originality actually matter? I’m not saying Hollywood should abandon all attempts at innovation (God, no), and now more than ever, it’s vital for filmmakers and the public to prove they care more about story and characters than brand name, but in the war against creative apathy, people have made originality seem like the be-all and end-all of good movies. Truth be told, it isn’t. Originality is important, but not all-important. To return to the earlier examples of box office returns, yes, in 2000, only one sequel made it into the top 10, but the highest-grossing movie of the year was Ron Howard’s
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which received a less-than-stellar 53% on Rotten Tomatoes. Also, the movie that made the most amount of money in 1998, after Saving Private Ryan, was Michael Bay’s end-of-world disaster flick Armageddon, a slice of blockbuster bombast arguably just as preposterous and inane as Transformers (albeit with at least a semblance of a heart, even if that heart is wrapped in ten tons of explosives) and a nominee for multiple Razzies, including Worst Movie of the Year. Frankly, I’d rather see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 at the top of the list than Armageddon.

         A few days ago, I came across an article on by Adam B. Vary arguing that Super 8, J.J. Abrams’ June 2011 ode to 1970s science-fiction movies, deserved Oscar recognition (in case anyone bothered wondering, Super 8, along with several other genre movies, including Hanna, X-Men: First Class, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, got completely ignored by the Academy, scoring not even a nod for Visual Effects or Sound Mixing/Editing). As anyone who knows me can attest, I adored this movie, so naturally, I agree with Vary’s article 100%. However, as much as I would love to ramble on about why I think Super 8 is an amazing movie that should be admired for years to come and why the recent trend of dismissing genre film as frivolous escapism is condescending bullshit, that is for another time. I want to discuss not the article itself but the comments attached to it, many of which said something along the lines of the following:

  • “I would hardly consider this movie Oscar worthy.  It was technically proficient but highly derivative.  It will probably be rediscovered on multiple repeats as a pleasant story to while away a Saturday afternoon, but nothing more.  It had nothing new to say and was easily forgettable.”
  • “Far too dependent upon all the films it borrows from, Super 8 brought very little new to the party.”

          Any frequent Internet user is well aware that most people that use the Internet (this statement could be applied to the entire world, really, but it’s especially true on the Internet) are dicks, and the sooner you get used to this fact and stop letting every little “Fuck you” or “Your taste sucks” get the best of you, the better. I think I’ve gotten reasonably immune to Internet dickishness, but that doesn’t prevent me from occasionally wanting to explode with righteous (if irrational) anger, particularly if the thing being insulted is a movie I happen to like a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I accept the fact that these are opinions, and while I sometimes wish everyone had the same taste as me, I’m not going to point fingers (though I’m confident that the Internet would be a much better place if people stopped acting like their personal opinions are facts agreed upon by everyone).

        The thing is, I feel more and more that the “it’s not original” complaint is a flimsy one at best. What does it mean to be “original” anyway? Fundamentally, it implies that the plot or concept of a movie is something that no one has ever thought of before, but in this day and age, after hundreds of years of storytelling, there is virtually nothing that meets those qualifications. To quote the Narrator from Fight Club, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. That’s not to say that there aren’t any fresh ideas floating out there, but for the most part, they succeed because of competent execution, not ingenuity, because pretty much every conceivable plot structure has been used before, and film-makers all depend on their influences to some degree. Even Inception, a movie that has been widely celebrated for its ambition, was greeted by an ample amount of complaints about its similarities to other films such as The Matrix and James Bond, and the romance between Cobb and Mal was weirdly reminiscent of the one between Teddy and Dolores in Shutter Island (also released in 2010 and, coincidentally, starring Leonardo DiCaprio). Still, although the resemblances are indisputable, that doesn’t change the fact that Inception is one of the most imaginative, daring, memorable and outright thrilling movies of the past decade (IMO, of course), and I would have killed for the chance to come up with a story as awe-inspiring as Nolan’s, which, by the way, he first thought of in the 1990s long before The Matrix was even a thing.

Why can't I extract your dreams, you brilliant son of a bitch?

         In fact, a great deal of classics can be reduced to a not-so-original plotline – Citizen Kane is about a man rising to power and then losing it; Casablanca is about a love triangle; Gone with the Wind is a sweeping, romantic melodrama set against the backdrop of the Civil War; The Godfather is a mob movie; Jaws is a monster movie; Raging Bull is a true-story boxing film; and so on – but that doesn’t make them any less exceptional or noteworthy. More recently, yes, we have Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai, but Avatar provided audiences something none of those three movies (and numerous others) had, regardless of the film’s arguable quality as a whole: pure, exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. And that’s why it’s the highest-grossing movie in the history of movies – well, that plus the 3D and IMAX. The Social Network is superficially Citizen Kane for the Internet age, but it’s so witty, so subtly acted and quietly mesmerizing that it hardly matters. The Artist may not have the most innovative plot, but it does have bottomless buckets of charm, a gimmick that actually matters to and enhances the story and a dog named Uggie. It’s not about what you do; it’s about how you do it.

         All of this is to say, I’d be perfectly fine if Hollywood only produced sequels and remakes if they were all as good as The Dark Knight or The Departed, and besides, for as long as there are movies and people to make them, there are going to be inspired, thought-provoking ideas, though hopefully, they won’t all be confined to art house cinemas. Super 8 was a smart, entertaining, heartrending and all-around delightful experience for me, not to mention the rare summer tent-pole that cares more about its characters than CGI explosions, so in the end, I don’t give a shit if it is a little too evocative of E.T.-meets-Stand By Me or if it doesn’t “bring anything new to the party”. A good movie is a good movie, and not all movies have to be groundbreaking or revolutionary in order to be remembered or appreciated.

         As C.S. Lewis said, “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

Picture References:

Editor's Disease

CE Jenkins

            George Lucas recently unleashed the Phantom Menace in theatres once again, this time in 3D comparable to the way the film reached off the screen and wrung your brain out the first time it came out. I can only assume this is part of a ploy to either shamelessly make money or—no, actually, that’s pretty much the only reason.

           But honestly, I just pick on the Star Wars prequels because it’s fun and easy. I like them just fine myself, although I won’t debate the fact that the originals are better.  What really interested me about the re-release was the interview with Lucas that appeared shortly before Phantom was shuffled back onto the big screen, in which the director answered to many of the complaints fans have raised about the changes he made to the original trilogy in previous years. Living proof that editing is to art forms as cocaine is to Charlie Sheen, to me Lucas’s changes are less about terrible decisions and more about how hard it is to put down the red pen when it’s been surgically grafted into your hand.

           Most artists I know are perfectionists; they live in conditions ranging between squalor and crazy-cat-hoarder, yet heaven forbid a single period goes out of place. And don’t get me wrong, I’m totally an advocate of spending Saturday nights debating the use of two nearly indistinguishable adjectives. You really should think your own work is perfect before you get it published or file it away or burn it cathartically or do whatever it is people do when they finish something. However, as wonderful as you might think the final product is at first, it’s a statistical guarantee that at least one other person is going to think it’s a pile of maggoty bat-droppings. And as soon as they start pointing out all the things they think is wrong with it, the illusion is shattered and your inner editor starts flexing the carpal tunnel out of her fingers.

           Another tough thing about any creative pursuit is that not only will some other people not like your work, but eventually you might not either. You’re always learning new and better ways of doing things that make plenty of your previous achievements look like crap; the ability to look back on your earlier work and cringe in emotional agony is the mark of a great artist, or at the very least an artist who is good enough to know when they’re bad. And of course it’s torture to look at something you’ve created and see everything that’s wrong with it, knowing that if you were given just a little time and some shitty CGI you could finally live up to your new standards of perfection.

           Going back and revising something in a story that everyone is already familiar with is about as annoying as that person telling a joke who keeps backtracking to say that “no wait, the duck was actually orange! And from Sweden! Or was it Switzerland? And now that I think about it, the duck was actually blue!” Once a story’s been told, that’s it. You can put it in different bindings or convert it to Blu-ray, but you can’t add bonus chapters and poorly rendered lasers that clearly wouldn’t have missed at point blank range, come on George you can do better than that.

          This post might be a bit more accurate if I started writing it mostly in the first person; at this very moment I’m working on a short story that I slapped down on my desk and declared complete three months and fourteen pages ago. But there comes a point where you have to stop and accept that your work isn’t going to get any better by adding a three-chapter prequel and changing the font to wingdings. Once the story has gotten to a certain point, any future changes you make will only end up distorting it.

           It’s an unfortunate truth that no matter what you do, eventually you will hate it. And then you will love it again. And then you will try to destroy every copy of it that ever existed. The point is that it’s finished, set in stone, and all you can do about it is either try to live with it or change your name and move to Greenland. Otherwise you end up slapping eye-assaulting CGI over your original scenes and rearranging the order of an already beloved bar-scene shootout. Figuratively speaking.