September 2006 Archives

Breaking News from England

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From the BBC: "A breakdown patrol man who came to the rescue of a woman motorist has managed to get her car started using her dog."

As Juliette Piesley of Surrey was changing the battery in her electronic key fob, the immobiliser chip fell out, and her dog ate it. Now she can't start her car unless the dog is sitting inside it... at least, until the chip comes out the other end.

The article presents this story as a charming accident, but I think it's something more sinister. For nearly a century, dogs have longed for a way to force their owners to give them car rides. Now one dog in Surrey has finally cracked the code. Soon they will figure out how to start and drive the cars themselves. Then they will work out how to lift up the toilet seat when they are thirsty. And then we will be obsolete!

Flee! Flee! The dog revolution is about to begin!

Theme

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It's been a little while since I wrote about screenplay theory...

Over at The Artful Writer, Craig Mazin has posted an interesting bit of theory on the relationship between theme and plot structure.

Craig sees theme as:

A proposed argument, e.g. "There's no place like home," "It is better to love and lose than never to have loved at all," "The unexamined life is not worth living." In this sense, "theme" could actually be referred to as "The Answer."

Like most mainstream American screenwriters, Craig's definition of "theme" coincides with the one that Lajos Egri laid down in The Art of Dramatic Writing. (Egri calls it "premise," but "theme" seems a more common way of describing it.) I don't know if Craig has read Egri, but certainly many writers have. When I was at USC grad school, I was advised that Egri was the granddaddy of script theorists.

What's interesting to me is that, as a viewer of film, I've always gotten the impression that European films (and, perhaps, American indie films) define theme differently. In the American mainstream, theme is a sentence. In Europe, it seems to be a phrase, or even a noun. "There's no place like home" is an American-style theme. A European-style one might be "the human longing for home," or even simply "home."

As I said, this was my impression for a long time as a viewer. It was confirmed recently when I sat down with one of my favorite European directors for a script I'm writing for him. He decided early on that the theme of the book I'm adapting is "escape." An American director might have looked at the same book and concluded the theme was, say, "You cannot escape your nature."

(As with any blanket Americans-are-like-this-but-Europeans-are-like-that statement, I'm generalizing greatly, and there are numerous exceptions. Indeed, Egri himself--the found of the theme-as-sentence school--was Hungarian-born. )

Done well, there's nothing wrong with either approach. It's only when it's done badly that the differences really start to emerge. I find badly written American film to be too pat and too obvious.I find badly written European film to be maddeningly unclear or evasive. I enjoy the best-written films of all sorts... But because I personally prefer films that err on the side of ambiguity, I like the European approach a bit more. Obviously, it's a matter of taste.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kurtz

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An actual, untouched scan from the TV listings in last week's Time Out: London:

Yes, that certainly would be the high point of the series...

Citizen Kane: The Musical

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I've uploaded two of my short films to revver.com:

You're A Good Man, Charlie Kane"--a standalone excerpt from my mock-documentary about a musical version of Citizen Kane.

Joe's First Day In Boston, which may be the most thrilling short film ever made about a guy waiting for a traffic light to change.

Why Revver, you might ask, rather than Google video or Youtube? Because Revver actually shares their revenues with content creators. Every time somebody watches my films all the way through and clicks on the ad at the end, I get a little money. My films have only been up for 24 hours, and already I've made 30 cents. At this rate, I'll make enough to bankroll a feature-length film in... let's see here... 456 years. Sundance, here I come!

Backstage at the Emmys, 2006

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When my friends Rob and Sheryl went to the Emmys in 2004 and 2005, I posted their star-studded backstage roundups here at Yankee Fog. But their 2006 writeup is so Emmytastic, it requires its very own website. Go there, and be shocked by the decadent tales of backstage Hollywood, where the water flows like champagne and the martinis cost eleven bucks.

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