Living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, everywhere you go seems to be the back drop for one movie/TV show or another and when you teach at San Dimas High School, the cult classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is often the topic of conversation with outsiders. For example, I just spent a week grading AP exams with teachers from around the country and when I said where I was from, most of them could quote the movie’s most famous line.
So, with the third Bill & Ted's movie coming out in 2020, and with our principal being really cool about inviting Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves to the real San Dimas High School, I suggested about a month ago that we make an intentionally campy commercial extending the invitation.
Well, I was reminded of the old adage than when you suggest an idea you usually are volunteering for the project. Undaunted, I wrote a first draft of the 3-minute screenplay and worked on polishing the script with a new teacher who was my former student of mine and not even born when the film came out.
Our awesome video teacher was on board and so were a bunch of teachers and students who jumped at the chance to be in this video. We had a lot of fun and even the local media liked it.
More importantly, in the midst of writing (and rewriting) my first screenplay, I discovered how important it is to work on a little side project now and then to keep the creative juices flowing.
Now let’s see if we can get these famous “alumni” to return to campus!
That would be most excellent!
While I made the leap to streaming TV last year, my wife and I still watch some shows that have a traditional 24-episode arc.
Recently we watched two season finales of series we have enjoyed for years. Both of them used the plot twist of bringing back old characters who had been written off years earlier. One show did so in a believable fashion that stayed true to the character and her motivations, but the second attempt was much less successful (in my eyes at least). The latter featured a storyline about a couple who rode off into the proverbial sunset after years and years of romantic tension but when we checked in with them today, their (and our) hopes and dreams had been dashed on the harsh rocks of reality.
While the technique worked (it wasn’t like they had been abducted by aliens and just returned to Earth to save the hero), it was so unfulfilling that I have taken to choosing the “reunion” never happened. I simply erased it from my mental hard drive and reverted back to the previous version of the story.
I admit this is a radical step for TV show fan and perhaps a rude one for a fellow writer with nowhere near as much experience. But I was reminded of a valuable lesson: writing is not merely an art but a responsibility.
It is easy to introduce more and more complex twists and turns in your narrative. The problem is we can just as easily forget we write for an audience of more than just ourselves. A series of movies or a long-running TV show has developed a loyal following and, as have we learned from the Game of Thrones ending (well, others learned, as I am apparently one of a dozen Americans who is not a GoT fan), pleasing, or at least respecting, the audience is the number-one goal of a writer.
Let’s just hope I get it right with my own script. Thankfully, I have a fellow scribe much better at the craft to keep me on the straight and narrow.
As we speak, I am doing something most novelists only dream about: I am working with a friend to convert one of my novels into a screenplay. Of course, like one might expect, visions of being on the set while famous people bring your words to life danced through my head (and, rather foolishly, I was already pondering the opening lines to the Academy Award speech I will never give).
I quickly wrote a first draft that closely matched the book, but condensed the key elements like a fine balsamic reduction. I was rather pleased with how easy the process was. Beaming like a proud parent, I sent it off to my screenwriter friend who wanted to partner with me. He took a quick look at it and quickly informed me that, while I was a good writer of books, stories on the screen just are not told the same way. It’s all about the visuals and the pacing is much different.
So, what we have set out to do is create a story inspired by my original work. What I thought was going to be like puppy undergoing a bit of primping to be ready for a dog show has become like a caterpillar being transformed into a butterfly. The core elements are the same, but they are displayed in radically different ways.
I am learning how to write all over again and, when I watch a TV show or movie, I am seeing with new eyes and listening with new ears. My critiques are more nuanced, but I also see the things writers and directors do well and I appreciate their genius more than ever before.
So, while I might grumble like J.R.R. Tolkien’s ghost when Peter Jackson took a bit of cinematic license with the Lord of the Rings series, I must admit that the movies were fairly popular and works of cinematic splendor.
I also need to keep in mind books and movies are two separate entities. I have a family member who loves A Prayer for Owen Meany, but does not like the film adaptation Simon Birch at all. I, on the other hand, rather disliked the book but absolutely adore the film.
While it may be hard, it’s important to remember the caterpillar of the written word and the butterfly of the moving picture are both beautiful in their own ways.
One of the most anticipated movies of the year came out December 14th and the internet has been abuzz about its merits and detractors ever since the end credits finished rolling.
While people went out to see the film in droves and it hit box office gold overnight, critics, professional and armchair alike, have been taking potshots at the latest film in the Star Wars universe. And while I can take the professional critiques, some of these fans need to cool their jets just a bit and put things in perspective.
As I offer some thoughts, the obvious warning about spoilers should be taken into account.
Like Yoda chastises Luke Skywalker about obsessing over the ancient Jedi texts, I think some fans forget this is a movie set to engage audiences and tell a story along the way. Part of the problem with The Last Jedi is that it is a middle film and, like a middle child, it may not get the love afforded to the firstborn and the youngest of the clan.
Sure, some could criticize the middle of the film (which I thought did a fine job), but the movie succeeded in pulling me in, surprising me with some scenes (like the silence during the destruction of the Star Destroyer and, of course, the fight between Kylo Ren and Uncle Luke), and making me laugh when I didn’t expect to do so in an action film.
Since most of the critics haven't written anything lengthier than a blogpost since college, I would like to look at this front a writer’s perspective. I have written reasonably good indie novels, but fairly bad scripts to date. My first attempt at a screenplay had more holes than Alderaan after Darth Vader and Co. paid a visit (too soon?) and my second one wasn't much better. I am learning from my mistakes on script idea #3.
So I understand to some small degree the challenge before Rian Johnson – to write a script that would appeal to people who saw the first trilogy in the theaters (like myself) and those whose only experience with Star Wars prior to The Force Awakens was on a TV or computer screen.
In addition, you need to honor the last generation (Luke and Leia), hand the baton off to the next generation (Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose and Kylo Ren), pay homage to the previous films (anyone catch the double sun and echo back to Tatooine?), stun us with a few plot twists, and provoke a belly laugh or two to change up the pace a bit. Oh yeah, he had to direct the movie as well.
Thankfully Johnson decided to write a good action movie with humor and homages back to earlier elements in a story that began back during the Carter administration. Considering the task he was given, I for one, think he did a very good job.
So, sit back, relax and watch the movie as it was meant to be enjoyed: with child-like wonder and an adult sense of reflection and circumspection.
And to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi (and now Vice Admiral Holdo): “May the Force be with you. Always.”
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.