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Monday, September 29, 2008

The villain's journey

All too often we think of the hero. But what about the villain? Every actor says the villain is more fun to play. A lot of the most memorble characters in movies are the villains - Keyser Soze, The Terminator, Hannibal Lector.

Philip Zimbardo is a name you may not know. But he was the professor who ran the now famous experiment where he took a random group of 24 students and made half of them prisoners and half of them prison guards - and watched the abuses unfold within a matter of days.

In short his career is about studying the evil within us all.

This guy knows what makes a villain so if you're writing a story with a villain in it - and that is probably most of you - then you should watch his 20 minute talk. Be warned however it does contain some disturbing images.

For those that prefer the written word and those of you, like me, who struggled to keep up - here are some notes...

What is evil?
The exercise of power to intentionally:

  • Harm psychologically
  • Hurt physically
  • Destroy or kill
  • Or commit a crime against humanity

Get all 4 behaviours evident and we can clearly see this as a villain rather than a anti-hero or provocateur. The biggest news for me was that Philip's studies have shown that evil can only be linked to power.

What makes a villain?
There are 3 main reasons why someone has become a 'villain':

  • Dispositional villain - they are a bad apple. The simplest and weakest explanation and unfortunately the most typical with scripts. Only The Terminator can get away with this angle really.
  • Situational villain - its a bad barrel. A better and more complex villain. Someone forced into it. Someone that was perhaps once a 'hero' themselves.
  • Systemic villain - blame the barrel makers. The richest villain where we can see that we would perhaps do the same. I would say John Malkovich's character from In the Line of Fire was one of these.

So aim for a systemic villain to offer the richest, most realistic villain to your story and make it a villain that we learn something from rather than just writing someone who is a 'bad egg'. A dispositional villain offers us no way to understand them and their motives.

Lastly, here is Philip's 7 steps to evil. What I would call the villain's journey...
1 - Mindlessly take the first small step. Every evil act begins harmlessly enough but gets out of control.
2 - Dehumanise others
3 - Become anonymous. 90% of cultures who go to war wearing masks also commit villainous acts. A flamboyant villain (eg The Joker) would be unlikely to do so. Certainly a fame-seeking villain would be a villain that was unrecognisble to us as realistic.
4 - Diffusion of personal responsibility - it's not my fault
5 - Blind obedience to authority - they made me do it
6 - Uncritical Conformity to Group Norms - peer pressure
7 - Passive tolerance of evil through inaction

Check out the full talk. I think on reflection that we have neglected our story villains. We like heroes that come from everyday life, a hero we think we could be. Well that should go for villains too. Uncomfortable as that may be.

My favourite quote of the talk - But momma, humanity is my business.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A new way to write

Following on from a recent post here is another new way to do things courtesy of our comic-writing colleagues.

At Marvel they used to do the structure of the story / the issue, then draw it and then add the dialogue last. Fine, makes sense. Well how about doing a film in that way, using that working methodology?

Just write the bare bones structure.
Then film it.
And then write the dialogue, which clearly would have to be a voice over.

Possible? A good idea? It is kind of how we do Mr Vista to be honest. But perhaps we could go further...

Anyone ever worked like this?

Speech bubbles available to download for free from here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Writer Song Meme

Lucy started it. Dom tagged me. Here is the meme.

Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you've chosen it. NB: It doesn't have to be your favourite song, it just has to express how you feel about writing and/or being a writer. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular form or aspect of writing - whatever you want. Then tag 5 others to do the same (reprint these instructions).

Mine is from a song by prog rockers "Yes" called 'Brother of Mine'...

So giving all the love you have
Never be afraid to show your heart
So giving all the love you have
There is a special reason
A special reason...
In the big dream
We are heroes
We are dreamers
Of the big dream

Indeed. We should be dreamers of the big dream.

I pass this onto...
Steve Keevil - cos his blog is well out of date
Andy Couglan for letting me know I didn't need a brolley.
Clay Lowe because he will know a proper answer
Chris Stack as my most loyal reader

And lastly, YOU dear reader, the one who always wanted an excuse to leave a comment but never did.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How long does it take to become a good writer

A phrase I heard about writing (possibly from Robbie Morrison) was;

You need to get 100 pages published to clear the crap out of your system.

Now this statement was made about comics writing. But you get the idea. We all have a certain amount of frothy head on top of our home brew that we need to get past to get to the strong stuff.

It could be 5 TV episodes. It could be 6 shorts. It could be 3 feature scripts. I'm not sure how easy it would be to seek a common standard for us as screenwriters. I'm not sure I'm even there yet! Are you?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Watching " Slacker Uprising " by Michael Moore in the UK

Obviously I am very interested to see Michael Moore (in collaboration with Robert Greenwald at Brave New Films) has a new film out and is making it free-to-watch as I proposed for Circumference 3 years ago.

Great to see that happening and I am an ongoing supporter of Robert and his new distribution methods - as well as his documentaries. It's real quality, yet grassroots, stuff fuelled by his own passion and done because he believes in it. And that's what counts!

But a couple of flies in the ointments too.

One: I won't have to tell you why this phrase from Mike's open letter gets my goat - "That's why I'm giving you my blanket permission to not only download it, but also to email it, burn it, and share it with anyone and everyone (in the U.S. and Canada only)." Hmmmm.

Two: This is in effect an advert / propaganda tool. It's a political pamphlet in film form. So it should be free, just as we don't expect to pay for leaflet stuffed through our door. So this business model is not sustainable or typical. In effect we, as film makers rather than activists, can learn little from it to help us.

To me this film is good and welcome - and yet a diversion. But then I also feel we are entering an age where every film will have a unqiue business model just as it has a unique marketing strategy. And why not?

Anyway. If you want to check it out yourself and you are NOT in the US and you know what I mean by a 'torrent' then go here.

Thanks for reading and comments welcome from everyone in the world regardless of where they are! :)

Photo by Erik R. Bishoff.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How do you get great film ideas - a recap

Just a quick recap as I delivered a guest talk on this topic and the content seems a bit spread out on the blog:

Here is the beach combing picture - a simple diagram on the phases of an idea that has come out of my observations of working with creative people...

beachcombing ideas

Here is the animation that goes with it if you want an explanation - the voice by yours truly...

Here is a link to the idea of storydust. This is a way of thinking about keeping small ideas until they become a big one.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What is a good idea?

A good idea is an idea that happens.
Grant Campbell

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Storydust episode 72

What is this doing here at midnight? Let the story begin!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Interactive Emotions

My old friend, interactive writing fan, published novelist and teacher Jim Pope comes in to see me - interested in my recent character randomiser work and knowing I'd been bigging up interactive work like that of Ze Frank and interactive writing like that of Steve Morrison.

He said its always good to come and see me as he never knows what he'll get. It is like my brain is "like that crazy bar out of Star Wars"! I think it is a compliment.

Anyway, the discussion with Jim about interactive writing gave me a revelation style insight.

We think of the interactive element of a story to be plot related only. We the audience interact with the plot. Example: For this to happen click here.or To do this turn to page x And so on.

Is this satisfying? Not always. It means the storyteller can't really lead you on a fully rounded adventure.

What my work on the character randomiser showed me was another way. A 'change the emotion' way. For example a sliding bar on screen all the time that showed how angry you were about the situation. Slide it up to heighten the scene. Lower it to diffuse the scene and move on more quickly. The plot stays almost the same for everyone. Yet the experience is different. Has this been done before? I haven't seen it. So that might be a new project in the offing.

Imagine writing that? Insane!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Not crashed

Mr Vista is still alive and kicking - many people ask. Here he is on Atom Films now. So its all good stuff. Not my favourite episode at all but one thing I've learnt is that I can NEVER predict which episodes will do well. Just raised enough money for series 2. So that's amazing seeing as how its all raised online.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Interactive writing

I've just come off a rather interesting project. It was writing, directing and editing a character randomiser.

Oh yeah? What's that then?

Well it's a short interview with a character, in this case a salesman. He gives his views in answer to various questions. Except that everytime you watch it his views are different. In fact there are 42,000 various combinations.

Now that takes some writing! And some acting. The clip above shows just one version. In the spirit of the blog here some lessons learnt to share about this project in case others want to take this idea forward.

Writing it:The final viewing experience is made up of 3 sets of questions and answers. 5 different versions of each question. 8 different answers. I created a different script for each question and answer.

Technical stuff: Each question and answer was filmed with 2 cameras. The reason for this was so that during each answer I can keep popping up with 'noddies' or follow up questions. If I didn't do this then the audience would spot the randomiser working. It would be clear that any visual cut would be the randomiser picking a clip. This way you don't know what is a 'randomiser cut' and what is a 'normal cut'. So each question or answer is then edited up in final cut so I have 39 short clips. These are then selected and played (jukebox style) by the randomiser program which is build using Flash.

Shooting: The black set is just set up in a dark normal office room but with £300 worth of black material everywhere.

How to write it: The characters opinions are mapped on a grid so as to get a good range of views. From highly skilled to low skilled and high commitment to low commitment. It's then a case of reading it again and again, in lots of combinations. If they don't work then rewrite either the question or answer.

Does it work then?It works okay. I give it 8 out of 10. The writing works perfectly. In fact I think it is the questions that are letting it down. Because they can't really follow on that makes the performance difficult. It seems sometimes like I haven't listened. If I did it again I would probably work on that. One solution being a very definite pause and a clearer statement about moving on or drawing a line in the sand.

Here is a snapshot of the script. Or you can download the whole thing here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How to deliver and write a great speech

A few days ago I put up a post and video featuring Brian Jenner. It was just one of his new series of info shorts about speechwriting. I've had a lot of feedback that people liked it. Typical. This is the last time I feature someone else on here, they are always more popular than me. But I have no pride as all you readers know. So here are more top tips from Brian. All in one go! Two clips and then 4 thumbnail links. Enjoy. And obviously I recommend Brian if you do need speechwriting help.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Quote - do you agree?

Steve Morrison was a guy who I met at The Screenwriters Festival this year. I liked the idea of his book which is out soon. It's called the The Regional Accounts Director of Firetop Mountain. It's a spoof on those roleplaying books of the 80s. I liked the idea so much I gave him my hotel room. How's that for being a sudden fan! I think it's because his book reminded me of a quick Mr Vista interactive adventure I knocked out.

Annnnnnnyway. Here is his quote...

"Most people need a lot of money from a job they hate just to make it bearable. If you do what you love, you need less."