Saturday, July 31, 2010

Inception - Idea as Virus

After Thursday morning's shock knocked me into my own dream state, I went along to see Inception.

Though I don't remember how I got there. The suspicion I was dreaming confirmed by this exchange immediately after purchasing my ticket:

Kid: Any drinks or popcorn with that?
Me: Medium combo, thanks.
Kid: Want to upgrade that for an extra dollar?
Me: Nah, I can't eat that much popcorn
Kid: I'll upgrade the drink for free then.

Okay, that's a dead giveaway! A partial free upgrade... at a candy bar... at the cinemas? Yeah, right! (ps well done kid, I was impressed). That and the fact the lobby was deserted (other than the two of us). Definitely dreaming.

Into the cinema I go. Now, I'm kind of fussy about where I like to sit - centre/centre - half way up and dead in the middle. The sweet spot...

Available! And the immediate zone free of seat kickers, inane talkers, mobile phone wankers & sundry other distractions that usually bug the hell out of me.

I am clearly in a deeper level of dreaming as the ads and trailers seem to go for like 30 minutes (surely ludicrous). I accept I'm probably still sitting at my desk at work, stunned and time has slowed here.

Then the movie starts. Excitement abounds. The internet chatter and reviews have been excellent. My mind, desperate for some serious diversion, is about to be dazzled...

But instead, something strange happens --

Someone's brought me down to this level of dreaming to insert the idea that this film is a complex mind-fuck of a masterpiece. And I'm not buying it.

On the surface it appears outrageously inventive, gloriously shot, well acted and demanding of my full attention to comprehend its secrets. But then it seems a simple heist story told in a very complicated way. And I simply don't care.

As the corporate induction video plays before my eyes explaining the rules of extraction and the theory of inception - with some practical exercises thrown in to demonstrate the principles - I start to wonder if I am being conned ala The Prestige.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Christopher Nolan is an immense talent. I loved The Dark Knight (with a few quibbles), was astounded by Memento and think The Prestige is a handsomely crafted puzzle of a film... bar the ending. When I come to understand Nolan has pulled a magic trick on me... except the prestige doesn't have me on my feet applauding.

So now I'm thinking, this guy is smart and audacious, and he's trying to implant an idea in my mind with all these rules and pure exposition. Namely, that this is everything the hype says it is.

Why is my brain rejecting this carefully planned inception?

Well, I think it's because I don't really know who's doing what, why they are and what the actual stakes are. All I really know is that Cobb wants to go home and that Saito wants to fuck with his corporate rival. The latter feels like a pure McGuffin and therefore I am ambivalent about it. The Cobb-Mal thing seems underwhelming... he can't go back to the US because she killed herself but blamed him because... blah blah blah. I start having Shutter Island flashbacks.

As for everyone else - well, um, they are ... because they need to ... um? I dunno.

Then there's the whole mechanics of 'kicks' and sedatives and if you're killed you wake up, oh, except if you're [insert plot device explanation] in which case you go into 'limbo'. Which is a terrible, horrible, brain mulching place... that Cobb has been to before. Huh? So no real stakes then?

I have no idea what Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character was doing in zero-G other than he was doing "stuff". Related to some complicated timing issue re kicks? and gravity? No tension or suspense if it's not clear what his plan is. Just confusion.

The snow scenes - lots of people dressed the same shooting at each other. Okey-dokey. Then Cobb is back in limbo. Where we come to the ending... and the spinning totem... and the cut to black. Which only confirms that Nolan is fucking with me - was he still dreaming? You decide!

Sorry, No.

I can't be bothered because I don't care enough about the characters. Therefore I have no investment to work out the 'true meaning' of all the trickery no matter how apparently spectacular. I don't care about the internal logic and the kicks and the 'this and that' which has the internet groaning with theories and speculation.

I enjoyed the film as diverting entertainment that didn't treat me like a 12 year old. I didn't feel the running time so much which is a good sign. Most films these days being 20+ minutes over long. But the more I think about it, the idea that this is some modern masterpiece dissipates. Instead, a rogue idea - Nolan's 'puzzle films' make that other cinematic manipulator, M. Night Shyamalan's post The Sixth Sense films look amateurish.

So when I entered my own limbo - the queue at the IGA grocery store next door (surely limbo is waiting in a queue for the '12 items or less' checkout behind people who can't count) - I could feel the fingerprints of the master inceptor.

Perhaps I will watch it again when it comes out on DVD. Maybe I'll just sleep on it...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dealing with Deadlines, Disappointments & Crises

I never set out to write a blog that espoused the do's and don'ts of screenwriting theory and good writing. There are far better qualified people - John August, Scott Myers, Karel Segers for example - who do that brilliantly with great authenticity, wit and skill. What I AM qualified to discuss is my personal journey in the wonderful world of film from an Australian perspective...

... and I gotta tell ya, it's been a rough month for various reasons.

My feature script didn't make the quarterfinals of Scriptapalooza which was a disappointment and abrupt reality check. I entered it after a burst of positive feedback that I'm now thinking gave me a level of confidence that was artificially inflated --

Complacency being the death of a screenwriter.

But I have a new draft to deliver so try and put the disappointment to one side and soldier on.

At present I'm deconstructing the entire script as the general consensus appears to be - well written, too complex, not commercial. The problem with that is, pulling out threads tends to unravel the whole piece as most of you would know. The other problem is time - deadlines loom and the brief of 'simplification' is turning into a major rewrite.

I'm actually enjoying the process - I'm throwing around scenes (for example, a scene that was near the end of Act Two is now the midpoint) but I'm running out of hours. The added pressure is that I have a director and producers waiting on pages to finalise a funding submission. If that wasn't bad enough life has been intruding in various ways - namely health and, as of today, work.

The health scare was prompted by a visit to a GP who I think was channeling Peter Lorre. Not my regular doctor mind you. He had the indecency to go on leave.

Me: I have this discomfort in my chest (points to area over the heart)
Peter Lorre: *manic laughter* then - Have you come from the Emergency Ward?
Me: (pondering this rather strange reaction/question) - a hesitant 'No'
Peter Lorre: Rate the pain from one to ten...
Me: Well, I wouldn't call it pain, it's more --
Peter Lorre: [Insert very long lecture about going to emergency whenever you feel chest pain] The only words I hear are: Heart and Attack... in that order
Me: Say what?!
Peter Lorre: nearly falling off his chair in a frenzy when he discovers I have a family history in this regard. More lectures. FINALLY takes out his stethoscope and checks chest.

Suddenly, we're discussing inflamed cartilage and ribs.

Me: Huh?
Peter Lorre: Just to be sure, we need to do an ECG.
Me: Okey dokey... so, not a heart attack then?
Peter Lorre: Probably not... but I'd like to be sure.
Me: thinking, you and me both, buddy!
On return from ECG...
Peter Lorre: Your blood pressure is a little high, but that's probably because you're anxious.

Then a battery of subsequent tests - blood, cholesterol, stress ... a heart ultrasound. To which everyone doesn't seem too concerned (except possibly my bank manager). Appears I strained cartilage somehow in an area inconveniently over my heart. Tell you what though, a bloody big wake-up call to lose weight, eat properly and exercise more.

Through this - still writing.

Then today. Get in a little late to work - to find out my boss in Sydney has scheduled a phone hookup with me. Hmmmm, we spoke only yesterday... but there's a big hookup for later in the day announcing an organisational restructure. Stomach churning, make the call...

To find out I have been made redundant.

Start wondering what Peter Lorre would make of outbreak of new physical symptoms --

Me: stunned
Boss: attempts at calming platitudes
Me: jaw on floor
Boss: ... paperwork... ring me any time... 2 weeks... HR...

Call suddenly over and I'm gasping for air like a goldfish whose fish tank has been teleported to another universe.

Goodbye part-time job, goodbye some 22 years with the same company in two stints (yes, literally half my life... to this point), goodbye financial security and comfort zone.

Didn't feel like writing today.

Went to see Inception instead. Suitably complex enough to distract my brain from a whole lot of nasty - what the fuck do I do now? - type questions.

Deadline perilously close. People waiting on me and the new draft. Must write.

In fact, I suspect disappearing into a world of my own creation - Inception style - might be the best remedy. That and this blog posting.

People say you should write every day. But damn if it ain't hard some times...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Betwixt & Between

Maybe it's the weather. Record cold spell in Perth has frozen my brain.
Maybe it was a little health scare. Thanks, over anxious GP.
Maybe it's a feeling of restlessness. Patience not a virtue of mine.
But decisions need to be made.

New brief is to simplify the feature script. Well written but complex seems to be the common view.
I fear suggested changes remove the magic.
Mulling options. Headache results.
Deadline looms. So time to pick up the scalpel.

But my mind wanders to what's next.
Given that writing a feature script and committing to doing it well ie research, beat sheets, treatment, multiple drafts etc = realistically, a year's worth of work. Given that year will be 'on spec', it's a big decision what to choose next.

The 'knock' on me is my ideas are too complex. Various people nudging me towards high concept. At least they see the writing talent. However -
Producers after commercial product.
Director after a shooting schedule.
As for me - tired of being the bridesmaid - shortlisted but never the chocolates.

So, big ideas have to be shelved.
Trench - the psychological war/horror idea which I love = too big. Plus I haven't cracked the third act yet.
Considering revisiting old scripts and taking another swing. Somehow feels like a backwards step. Even though there are nice elements there.
The possibility of re-imagining an existing property has also been put on hold. Pity, as it was a fun idea.

Discussed options with my director last night before concert of Space Classics. We both love science fiction. Listening to John Williams' music a catalyst. But what are the odds in Australia?
Mulling a heist film idea. Simple and slick. Maybe.

The supernatural might have to be banished. And the fantastical. For a while at least.

I've actually enjoyed escaping the Goldman-esque pit and rejoining the world for a while. Quiz nights, long boozy lunches, plays, the concert and, shortly, a local film festival. But the pit beckons once more. As writers know, that means embracing a certain level of anti-social behaviour. The hours need to be found. To the exclusion of other things. Like people.

I fall into that category of screenwriters who procrastinate until the death knell. Then it's time to knuckle down. Probably not the best way but it's my way. LOVE being in the zone. Wish I could get there more easily. Fear + adrenaline = creativity. It's a strange equation.

Enjoyed today's script meeting. Then again it wasn't my script. A friend is adapting their own short story which I love. A wonderful two-hander - low budget, arthouse, dark and undoubtedly controversial. Will make a great film if we get the script right (think Notes on a Scandal). I also love that she trusts me to be de facto script editor if not, indeed, co-writer. Helping another writer realise their vision is very exciting. Let's call it good karma.

So restless and searching. Perhaps not a bad way for a screenwriter to be. The mind is ticking over. Waiting for the fingers to follow. Don't expect to wait too long.