#MondayMusings – Nordkapp Film Festival

Monday, 10 September 2012

I arrived in Tromso and am having dinner with the festival organizers.  Had a brief tour of the local area.  I must say that Norway makes my heart sing.  Its beauty is breathtaking and its people are open and friendly.  Also the fish is the best in the world.  Fish restaurant for me tonight.

For the next several weeks this blog will be a sort of travelogue along with musing and observations in my consulting and teaching travels.

Here are a couple of observations from the plane:

1.  Nordic men are stunningly handsome. Just sayin’

2.  Scandinavians love America. I sat next to two Norwegian plumbers on the plan.  They were part of a group of 15 plumbers who were wrapping up a trip to New York.  They saved their money and met company performance goals– so off all the plumbers went as a company reward.  (Would this happen in America as a reward?) They had a fabulous time and the guy I sat next to is eager to return for a longer stay with his wife.

3.  The Norwegians are open and friendly observation is totally true.  Tall blond and handsome guy sitting one row forward helped me put my iPhone on non-roaming International mode so I wouldn’t rack up thousand of AT&T charge while in Europe.

Here is a look at Tromso–

#MondayMusings – What Your Comments Mean

187390_2540165_1563165_nToday I had the pleasure of “accepting” five new comments to different articles on this blog.  I want to take the opportunity to let readers know how thrilling it is to get even the briefest comment or “like” on one’s post, article, status update, tweet or other work.  One or two words will do.

So often I wonder, as does every other writer on the planet, is anyone actually reading this stuff?  Is the effort involved in making this information, personal revelation, review or commentary reaching anyone?  I am often surprised when someone mentions a post or essay weeks or months after it was written.  I thought it had gotten lost in the great ether of the Internet.

If you want to make a writer’s heart soar today,  tweet, retweet, comment or “like.”  It only takes a second and it means more than you know.

#MondayMusings – Day One at eQuinoxe

Snowy Road

Snowy Road in the Bavarian Alps

Snow began to fall at about midnight last night and continued through the day.  Slow, lovely and steady.  There’s maybe three + feet all around. It’s was quite magical and just the day to read a script in front of the fire! Looks like an early Christmas card.

The advisors all arrived today.  We attended a wonderful jazz concert at Schloss Elmau, which is renown for its music, literature and art programs.  That’s why the place is such a great fit for the eQuinoxe workshops.  It’s a great atmosphere of culture and creativity.

We had a lovely get-to-know you dinner with all the advisors.  I’ll be working with Kit Carson (Paris, Texas), Claire Dobbin (Australian Film Commission), David Keating (Last of the High Kings, Into the West), Anthony McCarten (Death of a Super Hero), Susanne Schneider (The Day Will Come), Martin Sherman (Mrs. Henderson Presents) and Time Squyers (Ang Lee’s long-time editor).

It’s a wonderful group and we will meet tomorrow to begin discussion of the scripts in the workshop.   Let the passionate debates begin!

#MondayMusings – Arrival in Munich

Part of the Schloss

Part of the Schloss

I hate to travel.  I know that sounds strange from someone who is “on the road” as much as I am.  But I find the prep, packing, getting to the airport and the flight very anxiety producing.  What I LOVE is my arrival.

I arrived in Munich and got my bags.  German airports are, as you would expect, a model of efficiency.  The baggage claim is right outside the gates, rather than in a crowded baggage hall for all arriving flights.

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Typical Painting in Upper Bavaria

Typical Painting in Upper Bavaria

The workshop location manager was there to meet me, we grabbed his rental car, picked up a dear friend, the head of eQuinoxe Germany, and drove up into the alps.  The scenery is spectacular on the road.  Several small villages along the way have the most glorious paintings of religious scenes or local scenes of brewing, baking, flowers or dancing painted on the exterior walls.

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Relaxation Area Outside the Hammam

Relaxation Area Outside the Hammam

Schloss Elmau was our destination, a fabulous resort and cultural hideaway tucked away on it’s own in the foothills of the alps.  Tired after a long trip I headed for the Hammam, a marble turkish bath and took a long steam treatment. I could feel all my tense muscles unwinding.

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Steam Rising Off the Heated Outdoor Pool

Steam Rising Off the Heated Outdoor Pool

Then I headed out to the outdoor pool.  The water is heated to about 98 degrees and was surrounded by patches of snow.  There were two naked German men in the pool as well. In  fact, there are always naked Germans in the pool.  This is my fourth trip to Elmau for eQuinoxe and it’s a startling fact of life that there is very little body self-consciousness at these kind of spa resorts.  I am sticking to my modest flowered one-piece thank-you very much.

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Sauna Overlooking the Alps

Sauna Overlooking the Alps

Next I hit the sauna for the heat to dry my hair and bathing suit.  Large windows again looked out over the snow.  Heavenly.  A quick shower and I dressed for dinner with some of the other advisors.  Then off to bed for a long restful sleep.  Arrival bliss!

#MondayMusings – What You Need to Know Before New Year’s Eve

Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource.
Given its limitations, New Year’s resolutions are exactly the wrong way to change our behavior. It makes no sense to try to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time, or to clean the apartment and give up wine in the same month. Instead, we should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year. Human routines are stubborn things, which helps explain why 88% of all resolutions end in failure, according to a 2007 survey of over 3,000 people conducted by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman. Bad habits are hard to break—and they’re impossible to break if we try to break them all at once.
Some simple tricks can help. The first step is self-awareness: The only way to fix willpower flaws is to know about them. Only then can the right mental muscles get strengthened, making it easier to succeed at our annual ritual of self-improvement.
The brain area largely responsible for willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is located just behind the forehead. While this bit of tissue has greatly expanded during human evolution, it probably hasn’t expanded enough. That’s because the prefrontal cortex has many other things to worry about besides New Year’s resolutions. For instance, scientists have discovered that this chunk of cortex is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems. Asking it to lose weight is often asking it to do one thing too many.
In one experiment, led by Baba Shiv at Stanford University, several dozen undergraduates were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.
Here’s where the results get weird. The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Prof. Shiv, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation.
This helps explain why, after a long day at the office, we’re more likely to indulge in a pint of ice cream, or eat one too many slices of leftover pizza. (In fact, one study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that just walking down a crowded city street was enough to reduce measures of self-control, as all the stimuli stressed out the cortex.) A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn’t what we need.
There’s something unsettling about this scientific model of willpower. Most of us assume that self-control is largely a character issue, and that we would follow through on our New Year’s resolutions if only we had a bit more discipline. But this research suggests that willpower itself is inherently limited, and that our January promises fail in large part because the brain wasn’t built for success.

brain-763982-1Great article on will power and New Year’s resolutions from The Wall Street Journal

Blame It on the Brain:
The latest neuroscience research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach

By JONAH LEHRER

Aside from how you can use this fascinating information personally, note the last paragraph below.  The more stressful obstacles you put in a character’s way the more likely he or she will succumb to the temptations of the antagonist,  fall into the Trouble Traits (on the Character Map) or start slipping to the Dark Side (on the Character Map).  Here’s an article excerpt:

Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource.

Given its limitations, New Year’s resolutions are exactly the wrong way to change our behavior. It makes no sense to try to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time, or to clean the apartment and give up wine in the same month. Instead, we should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year. Human routines are stubborn things, which helps explain why 88% of all resolutions end in failure, according to a 2007 survey of over 3,000 people conducted by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman. Bad habits are hard to break—and they’re impossible to break if we try to break them all at once.

Some simple tricks can help. The first step is self-awareness: The only way to fix willpower flaws is to know about them. Only then can the right mental muscles get strengthened, making it easier to succeed at our annual ritual of self-improvement.

The brain area largely responsible for willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is located just behind the forehead. While this bit of tissue has greatly expanded during human evolution, it probably hasn’t expanded enough. That’s because the prefrontal cortex has many other things to worry about besides New Year’s resolutions. For instance, scientists have discovered that this chunk of cortex is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems. Asking it to lose weight is often asking it to do one thing too many.

In one experiment, led by Baba Shiv at Stanford University, several dozen undergraduates were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.

Here’s where the results get weird. The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Prof. Shiv, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation.

This helps explain why, after a long day at the office, we’re more likely to indulge in a pint of ice cream, or eat one too many slices of leftover pizza. (In fact, one study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that just walking down a crowded city street was enough to reduce measures of self-control, as all the stimuli stressed out the cortex.) A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn’t what we need.

There’s something unsettling about this scientific model of willpower. Most of us assume that self-control is largely a character issue, and that we would follow through on our New Year’s resolutions if only we had a bit more discipline. But this research suggests that willpower itself is inherently limited, and that our January promises fail in large part because the brain wasn’t built for success.

Full Wall Street Journal article on will power here

#MondayMusings – Thousands of Historic Books Online

LibraryIf you’re a writer of historical fiction, a fan of genealogy or need to do some history research for a writing project– Here is a treasure trove of content recently scanned and available online from the Library of Congress.  Even better news is that it is free!

Nearly 60,000 books prized by historians, writers and genealogists, many too old and fragile to be safely handled, have been digitally scanned as part of the first-ever mass book-digitization project of the U.S. Library of Congress (LOC), the world’s largest library. Anyone who wants to learn about the early history of the United States, or track the history of their own families, can read and download these books for free.

Full article at America.gov Check out the Library of Congress Catalogue for free.  Here is the Library of Congress Internet Archive

#MondayMusings – Creating a New Character: Backstory

Behind_the_curtain ETB ScreenwritingSome or the shows I am working with are introducing new characters.  One of the immediate questions is what is the character’s backstory?  How and when should a new character’s history or past be revealed?

When something is revealed is as important as what is revealed.  Layer your exposition like an onion— let each successive layer bring us closer to your character’s essential inner core. Let the audience experience the backstory bit by bit as it becomes relevant to an urgent present situation.

Let’s say a character comes from a very wealthy background.  What does it say about a character if this is something the character reveals immediately upon meeting another person?  What does it say about the character if this information is withheld until the middle of a relationship and the character knows the person well? What does it say about the character if this information is withheld until the end of a relationship?  When and how a character reveals information is a defining aspect of the character’s personality.

Before revealing a character’s past ask:  Why does the character need to reveal this information now?  What critical or pressing situation demands the backstory be revealed at this precise moment?  Is the exposition revealed to someone for whom this is new information?  Is the information revealed through some kind of conflict?  Is the exposition active and urgent?  Is it surprising?  Is it unexpected?  What circumstances make the past somehow vital, critical or necessary to the immediate situation at hand?

What is the least amount of backstory, exposition or explanation that the audience needs to understand the story now?  Cut this material to the bone. How can the past be made more alive or active by something that happens in the present?  How does the past have immediacy for your character?  Can your reveals be delayed to have a greater impact?

Be especially careful when using flashbacks.   A flashback takes the audience out of the intimacy and immediacy of the present situation and reminds them they are watching a television show or movie.  Although flashbacks can be effective in some cases, they are very expensive emotionally.   Make sure your story can afford them.   Is the flashback absolutely necessary?  Is it active?  How does it increase the pressure, stress or conflict in the present moment?

An audience is most interested in “what happens next.”  Audiences are much less concerned about “what happened previously.”  Don’t deflect or deflate audience interest by long digressions into the past or long explanations of how a character got to where he or she is right now.

Revolutionary or Rebel

tom_joad_ETB ScreenwritingMy last day in Milwaukee is a sausage buying extravaganza.  I stopped at Usingers and bought several varieties with their own special spices.  Flying back to Santa Monica tomorrow.

I’ve been working on the final edit of the Power of Conscience eBook.  That particular Character Type is often confused with the Power of Idealism character.  The distinction between the two is subtle but clear. It is rather like the difference between a revolutionary and a rebel.

A revolutionary is someone who works for political or social change.  The orientation is toward changing and improving society.  The basic orientation of a Power of Conscience character is to seek moral and ethical perfection. They believe they could do better, others could improve and the world could be a better place.

A rebel is a person who resists authority, control, or tradition.  The orientation is more individualistic. The basic orientation of the Power of Idealism character is to seek aesthetic perfection.  Noteworthiness, rarity, distinctiveness, individuality and/or the unusual, idiosyncratic or eccentric are what these characters value most highly in themselves and others.

Power of Conscience characters cause revolution to conform society, as a whole, to a higher moral or ethical standard. Power of Idealism characters rebel against the status quo to resist authority or conformity and to promote or preserve their personal autonomy.

A Power of Conscience character looks at the world like this:

“Wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build– I’ll be there, too.”  Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) in The Grapes of Wrath

A  Power of Idealism character looks at the world like this:

Mildred: “What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?”
Johnny: “Whaddya got?”  Johnny Strable (Marlon Brando) in The Wild One

“And maybe there’s no peace in this world, for us or for anyone else, I don’t know. But I do know that, as long as we live, we must remain true to ourselves.”  Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) in Spartacus

#MondayMusings – Put It All Online

google-video-ETBScreenwritingEvery new media mimics what has gone before until it discovers its own form.  The films that followed live theater were created with a single static camera.  A single long shot replicated the audience’s perspective in viewing a stage show. It was assumed that was the perspective an audience would want in viewing filmed entertainment.  Finally, filmmakers realized they could move the camera and create an entirely new perspective and viewing experience.

Most online series are presented in episodic form, just like television.  If you create 22 or whatever number of episodes of bite-sized narrative, each is doled out, one at a time, over weeks and months.  Why is this a good idea?

No one likes to wait.  The Internet is the most impatient medium ever invented.  Going online is all about instant access all the time.  Why not put up a whole series (all episodes) in one shot?  Then the audience can view as much or as little of the narrative as THEY want exactly when THEY want to view it.

They won’t have to wait.  They can sample the series in order or out of order or however they like. Why do we think audiences have the patience or the attention span to come back to very short narrative snippets over time?  Isn’t this just the automatic mimicking of an old medium– episodic television?  Is that one reason why so many narrative series in this new medium fail?