Archives for category: TV

​Being of sound, but impatient mind, I am a notorious channel flipper. Commercials arrive…I flip. Scene drags…I flip. Cable goes out…I flip, usually futilely, since it tends to be all the cable and for ages. Mostly, I just land on more of whatever and keep flipping until I find the bazillionth showing of The Devil Wears Prada and settle in to watch Andie’s journey from beneath Miranda’s icicle thumb. Overall, a waste of time that could be better utilized. Like, say, watching leftover’s rotating microwave journey from beneath the fridge’s icicle thumb. 

Yesterday, though, I flipped past an obscure old movie. A fire raged. Flip. But, instead of a long-term flipping, I went back to see if the fire still raged. It did. Exactly the same as it had the first time. Flip. This was repeated, until the fourth flip by, when the fire still raged, but the scene had changed slightly. Fli– Wait. I checked again, and found the fire still raging, with little changed. 

Somewhere between the fourth and fifth flips, the screenwriter part of my brain finally surfaced, holding what had been nagging at the back of my mind between its teeth. I was witnessing a valuable little random lesson in how not to write an action scene. While I realize that a lot of final choices are out of a screenwriter’s hands, there are ways not to and to handle action that could make a difference. Possibly. Perhaps. 

<Way, before this revelation: 

INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

A fire rages.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

The farmhouse is a charred ruin.>

Way, after this revelation: 

<INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

A fire rages. 

Distant sirens wail.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

A dilapidated fire truck labors uphill, turns into the drive.

INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

Fire continues to rage. Beam breaks from ceiling, falls. 

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

Firemen spill from the truck, run to the house. They battle the fire.

INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

Firemen beat out the last burning embers.

The fire is extinguished.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

The farmhouse is a charred ruin.>

Okay, so I’ve added a third of a page. And it may be a futile endeavor. But at least this hypothetical script would leave me with a more channel flipping proof raging fire. After all, channel flipping and page turning are rooted in the same basic idea. Keep the audience/reader interested in watching/reading. Only opposite. In this case, an endlessly raging onscreen fire will lead to a flip on by, or a script reader with an irresistible urge to build their own fire…to toss the script onto. The fire whose raging is interspersed with related, yet separate bits of action, would be more likely to hold attention. At least that’s what the always lurking screenwriter part of my brain tells me.

​I woke up this morning to the news that author Colin Dexter has died. His career has the distinction of leading me to a favorite author I’ve never read. I intend to remedy that at some point, because he was the creator of a most wonderful character…Inspector Morse. 

Morse is the kind of character who makes you roll your eyes, even as you wait breathlessly for him to do something brilliant, whether it be professionally or personally. The man has layers. Many, many of them. Among the deepest is a kind, compassionate, and even romantic heart. A keen detective, the prickly bachelor works diligently to keep Oxford safe from an alarming number of murders. His difficult nature is softened by his love of literature and the classical music he blasts gleefully while flying along the narrow twists and turns of British life in his classic Jag. 

Morse is a Renaissance man wrapped in a curmudgeon, and viewers who fall in love with him despite his glaringly obvious shortcomings owe their devotion to two people. One is the uniquely talented  actor who portrayed him, John Thaw. The other is his creator Colin Dexter. Sometimes author and character and actor meet in a way that causes magic to spring forth from the TV screen. Morse is a wonderful, if unlikely, example of this feat. 

At first I was devastated by the final episode of the series, The Remorseful Day, wishing desperately it had ended earlier, when Morse went up the hotel steps, arm in arm with love at last. He’d waited so long for true, joyous love, why couldn’t he have ridden off into the sunset, as it were? Because, along with the heartbreak of that remorseful day, we finally got to truly see the depth of the sweetness, loyalty, and, yes, even love, he is capable of, in his final moments with his long suffering sergeant, Lewis. We also learned the secret he’d been carrying for far too long, when the extent of that innate loyalty extended toward a friend and colleague was finally revealed. What a man he was. And what a writer was Colin Dexter!

My favorite moment from the entire series:

Inspector Morse, The Remorseful Day, Ensanguining the Skies Scene

​I was minding my own business, channel flipping my way through an afternoon lull in any hope for productivity, when I got captured in the gossamer steel storytelling of a Grey’s Anatomy rerun. Even though I never became a regular viewer, somehow I managed to come across some of the most touching and poignant episodes of this show made up of heat, hate, and heart. Today, it was the one where George died.

So now I’m crying. 

Even coming in partway through. 

I think it’s the way they don’t know for so long. Caring for a brutally devastated dying anonymous John Doe is one thing. That he is a selfless hero is another entirely. Eventually, heartbreakingly discovering he is a colleague, a friend, a beloved essential part of your life, depending on who you are is something different and all but unbearable. And that’s just the characters.

For viewers both casual and devoted, this level of storytelling is devastating too. Even when you aren’t extremely invested in, or even familiar with, the characters involved, it feels like a personal attack on a gamut of emotions. How can we be so torn and shredded by images and words and actions carried out by people we don’t even know? People who aren’t even real? How is it possible for us to find ourselves crying over mere figments of imagination that ride into our hearts and souls and minds on bits of ink and flickering light that glitter along with our tears? It all comes down to talented writers and actors gifted with the ability to elicit emotion in a brief time, often with only a word, a gesture…a tear.

When the weeping viewer is also a writer and/or screenwriter, there’s a part of that person watching and feeling from the sidelines, awed and aspiring. This is the top tier of storytelling. The level where it’s not just the characters being moved and touched and made to cry beyond their own will, but the people who become involved in story. I’m sure this level is produced by the best storytellers. Often and well. I also think lesser beings achieve it sometimes. It is infinitely possible. 

That’s why it’s so important for people who love to write to keep writing. Even when it seems the writing is for a party of one. Every word written is part of the path, the growth, and the wonder that comes from creating something with your mind. If it happens to be that you, the writer, are the only one moved to tears over your stories and novels and scripts, so be it. It’s a beautiful thing that is a gift to be experienced. 

Izzie saying George would give it all, when asked about organ donation, then weeping by his bedside, holding his ruined hand is going to haunt me for the rest of the day. That’s another level of storytelling. Haunting  readers and viewers. It’s something Grey’s Anatomy does almost too well. But only almost.

Izzie says goodbye

Anyone who’s read my musings here for any length of time will have noticed that I’m interested in a very wide variety of topics. That interest in just about everything started when reading classics like Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities as a kid. It spread, as opportunities for travel grew as an adult, and became pretty much a cofoundation of my life with writing once telling stories decided to become my life. Today, TV, movies, and the internet, along with books, feed my voracious appetite for information. What better time for an information junkie to be on the planet than during our great Information Age?

Two of my particular sources of fascination have long been medical science and ocean travel. Sailing ships and their adventures are attractive for their drama and romance. The concept of transferring navigating the globe in vessels of canvas and wood lends itself perfectly to extrapolation into space. Trade the canvas and wood for titanium and transparent aluminum, and you’ve hitched your wagon to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, though he used the analogy of a wagon train traveling the great unknown. Some of us are born adventurers, whose passion for the stuff of myth and dreams leads us to explore space in our minds and on paper…and for some lucky few, in real life. As writers of science fiction, we may invent diseases horrific and space born, but none may be more horrific or devastating than the one I just read about in this National Geographic article.

Often I don’t eat very much at all or enough fruits and vegetables. If left to my natural appetite, I eat one carb heavy meal a day, with a little grazing on the side. I have had the habit of making jokes about it, saying something like: “Time to eat a salad or some fruit. Don’t want to give myself scurvy!” After reading this article, I don’t think I’ll be quite so quick to make light of such a terrible illness.

I’ve known about scurvy since ninth grade general science. Rickets too, which led to a similar joke, because I don’t like to drink milk. The very idea of scurvy carried a slight air of mystery and romance, because of its connection to sailing expeditions. Ninth grade children weren’t informed in their textbooks of just what it did to the human body. Now that I’ve been enlightened, all traces of romance and mystery have disappeared. All that’s left is an education on an obscure medical crisis that was also absolute tragedy.

Some of my favorite fiction to write involves medical backdrops. I have a feeling a space faring version of scurvy now lurks in my futuristic writing future. Anything can be expanded on, tangented from, and transferred to space. Scurvy included, though it’s going to be hard to “improve” on this very real horror from our earthbound past.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/scurvy-disease-discovery-jonathan-lamb/?google_editors_picks=true

I can’t let the 50 year anniversary of Star Trek pass without marking it as special to me. I stumbled into The Original Series long after its original run. I’d seen the movies and some franchise episodes. I liked them, but it was reading the novels that made me love them so much that I wanted to write my own Trek fiction. This avalanche of inspiration led me to watch… everything Trek. All that amazing Star Trek goodness inspired me to not only play in Gene Roddenberry’s sandbox, but also to continue what I learned from that into creating original fiction.

The end result to date of falling in love with Kirk, Spock, and Bones is that I won publication in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthologies VII, VIII, and Ten. The thrill of seeing my byline on those pro sale stories will forever be a landmark of my life, as a reader, a writer, and a human. That experience instilled in me a great love of writing and a work ethic that has led me this year to another longheld dream come true, being published in Analog.

Today, on the date when Star Trek first aired 50 years ago, I salute The Great Bird of the Galaxy. He enhanced my life in ways he never knew, but that I will treasure forever.

You know the question some people have to think long and hard about and others snap out an instant answer? The one that goes: If you could go back in time and have a conversation with anybody from the past, who would it be? I’m one of the snap it out people. Rainer Maria Rilke (though I will admit Nikola Tesla is a close second).

I first discovered Rilke’s poetry through the beautiful TV series Beauty and the Beast. The Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton one, not the CW one. That show made me fall in love with poetry. I’m not quite sure how Rilke’s distinctive, gorgeous, and not as accessible as many others poems struck such a cord with me that they rose above all others, but I’m grateful for the introduction to what has become a lifelong love for all things Rilke.

Yes, all things. In addition to his poetry that paints word pictures with its rhythm and lyrical descriptiveness, he also wrote equally lyrical prose. His book Letters to a Young Poet, in which he instructs and encourages a young friend, serves to do the same for me. There’s a particular line about creativity and the ability to write on command being different for different people and the way it must rise as sap in a tree (paraphrased, but the way I remember it many years after reading it), that resonated with me at a time when I struggled to fit into the molds of others with rigid ideas about how one must write. I felt that I had been “given permission” by my mentor from long ago to write the way my brain insisted was my way. That that made it THE way for me. Even still, when I rue the way I work, taking however much time my way needs to plot, and name characters, and order stories, the words “as sap in a tree” creep into my being, I relax, and go about my thing, my way. Even in a passing comment in correspondence, Rilke enhanced my own life, so, so many years after his death.

His death…. I read a story that he pricked his finger on a rose thorn, contracted blood poisoning, and died. What a tragic, yet romantic story. How fitting, though terrible, for a tragic, romantic poet.

This Brain Pickings article gives a taste of Letters to a Young Poet, and a flavor of Rilke himself, a man with such talent, such wordsmithery that he made me love the line “my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes”.

Some visits with my mom in the nursing home are better than others. There are times when she’s a bit snarky, times when she feels bad, and times when she’s sound asleep and I don’t even get to talk to her. Then there are times like tonight.

As I walked in I saw that she was watching The MTV Movie Awards. She was doing well and we chatted about all kinds of things. I noticed that her gaze kept turning to the TV, even as my head swiveled periodically to see who was onscreen. So of course our conversation was interspersed with exclamations about celebrities, hairstyles, and ceremonywear. Even that most dire of antagonists named Alzheimer’s cannot make her forget her love of Hollywood.

She always loved to read about
movie stars. Back in her day the royalty of Old Hollywood reigned on the pages of myriad movie magazines and the ever evolving technology of television. I distinctly remember the moment when I pulled open the doors of a large cabinet under our dining room buffet as a child, and discovered the aging paper of her old magazines that were a record of her love for those old movies. Her sister, my Aunt Pearl from previous posts, had an old photo album with crumbly cutouts cannibalized from her own collection pasted in for posterity. The apparent genetic pull goes even further back and all the way to Hollywood itself. My grandfather’s niece moved “out there” and became an obscure part of Hollywood history as a stand in during Old Hollywood’s hey day. So my childhood was filled with references to movie stars, movies, and even family lore from The Golden Age of Hollywood.

I fell under the spell of Old Hollywood as well, from watching a TV channel that showed the old black and white gems late at night and on weekends. Such classics as It Happened One Night, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mrs. Minever, The Thin Man Series, Being Up Baby,  Manhattan Melodrama…and more than I can record or recall. They all went into the giant mental vat that became the origin of my urge to write screenplays, though it was a long time before I realized it. Little did I know as the kid who loves old movies that one day I’d write screenplays that do well in some cool screenwriting competitions.

I didn’t really put it all together until tonight, as my mom and I found a moment when we could both be together in the same time and place, through that fantasy world called Hollywood. It had never really occurred to me how deeply my life has always been connected to movie magic and people who love it, even lived it. It makes me feel as if every screenplay I write is part of my heritage. A heritage and history I’ve become a real part of, in ways so unexpected that tonight, suddenly, I feel awed by just how deeply my love of Hollywood runs through my veins.