If Wishes Were Horses...

February 01, 2009 · by Burley Grymz · Permalink · Category: inspiration
“The proverb may be used to mock a wishful attitude by pointing out the uselessness of wishing. It may be also be used with a more serious tone as an admonishment, for the same purpose.”

From the Wikipedia page of the proverb whose sentiments I couldn’t agree with more.

Charlie Kaufman on avoiding movie tropes

January 30, 2009 · by Burley Grymz · Permalink · Category: inspiration

When Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind came out, Charlie Kaufman sat down with Charlie Rose for a rare interview. The interview is great, and his honesty and straightforwardness are admirable, and very possibly why he doesn’t give more interviews.

The money quote in this is when he’s talking about his approach to writing a romance (at 5:21 in the video):

I have this adverse reaction to Hollywood romances. They’ve been very damaging to me growing up, I feel. And I had these expectations in the world of what my life was going to be like and what my romantic life was going to be like. And as I got older and I realized my life wasn’t like that that, you know, it became depressing, and then I thought that real life was more interesting and maybe I should try to explore that and not put more damaging stuff into the world.

I’m always sort of trying to think “What is true?” — I mean, true to me, which is all I know — and try to reject ideas which come from other movies. Which is a very hard to do — because you often don’t know that your ideas of a scene or relationship come from movies not from your real life. You have to sit down and go “Wait a minute. Why are these two people people acting like this? It doesn’t have to do anything with what I understand.” And so I try to sort of find those things, take them out, and put in things I understand.

Here’s Part 1:

Part 2, which doesn’t allow embedding, is available here.


I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction lately. While we’ve read a million books on how to write screenplays, and worked a lot of drafts into one form or another, the fact remains that a good story is a good story. Some stories are right for certain mediums, and some are better for others.

Screenplays are not, in my opinion, the medium for ideas. They are the medium for experiences. I don’t like movies that try to make me think — not because I don’t like to think, but because movies that try to make you think usually have an agenda about how you should think. They are trying to teach you something.

Unless an audience comes to us and asks to be taught, who the hell are we to assign ourselves as teachers? What makes me think that a member of the audience who believes differently than me will change their mind because I manipulate them with images and sound?

Which is not to say that films can’t raise issues and deal with themes — but films should let you experience something and draw your own conclusions from it. I don’t like films that try to make me think — I like films that make me think. The films that do leave things open. They don’t tie off every plot line neatly, they don’t sacrifice ambiguity for resolution. They let people maintain some of their human failings.

Man vs. Wild -- No, Really

No, this isn't about the so-called three kinds of conflict. I'm literally talking about a new show on the Discovery channel, Man vs. Wild. There's this British guy with the wonderful name of Bear Grylls who is dropped into some harsh territory, like the Alaskan mountain range or the Costa Rican rainforest, and he attempts to survive and make it back to civilization, usually with no more than a water bottle, some flint, and the clothes on his back. Obviously, he (and his camera crew) make it every time, but it's always pretty gripping.

Look Ma, I'm Blogging

Sorry 'bout the lack of updates, folks -- we be busy. But that's the great thing about blogs -- why bother to write something original when you can just link to something else?

Check out some really great posts by screenwriter John August, at his blog:

How To Write A Scene


Scribble version, final version

(Admittedly, these are, like, weeks old, but good info and advice never goes out of date.)

I'll see if I can scare up a conversation about these posts with Burley.

Get Real

Both Shockah and I use 37 Signals products, and found their book Getting Real inspirational. They just released the complete book for free on the web, and in addition to the original PDF version, you can now buy a printed copy.

The focus is software design, but a lot of their advice translates to writing as well.

Here’s the HTML version for all to read.

Re: [9] Round 12, Part Two [La Commune Planet v. The Scabs]

I think you're right. It is closer to suspense, and possibly does border on horror. But, then the questions are raised, what is the suspenseful situation, and what is horrible about it? I see it more as dramatic, but then the thing is less formed and more amorphous in my head. We'll work on that. I'm sure we can come to terms over this. So long as coming to terms means doing exactly what I want.

It's funny -- as I've been working on my latest character bios, I've made the switch: I can see La Commune Planet as a comedy and The Scabs as a drama. The key for me on the latter was to forget about the robots and look more deeply into the human character -- not to put too fine a point on it, but what's his angst? Maybe it has to do with the robots, but maybe it doesn't. The more I can think of this guy as the subject of a drama, the more I can take the situation/story seriously as a drama. (It's tough, admittedly -- the situation just sounds more comedic than dramatic to me, but I think I can do it.) I don't know if that quite dovetails with your approach, but I don't think it's contradictory, either. If that makes any sense.

To me, that's the _heart_ of collaboration, and my segue into mentioning that I'm working on a few posts about collaboration and how we work, which I think is kind of interesting.

How's that coming, btw? I'd like to read that. I might learn something :-P

Re: [8] Round 12, Part Two [La Commune Planet v. The Scabs]

…well, you’ve just birthed a whole new genre. Congratulations! What are you going to name it? :-)

I was thinking Laura Mae might be a nice name…

I think you’re right. It is closer to suspense, and possibly does border on horror. But, then the questions are raised, what is the suspenseful situation, and what is horrible about it? I see it more as dramatic, but then the thing is less formed and more amorphous in my head. We’ll work on that. I’m sure we can come to terms over this. So long as coming to terms means doing exactly what I want.

I kid. This story is one I feel that’s worth fighting for, and to me that means it’s one worth listening to your critiques of, and accepting your ideas for, and forming it into something stronger than just my vision through collaboration. To me, that’s the heart of collaboration, and my segue into mentioning that I’m working on a few posts about collaboration and how we work, which I think is kind of interesting.


“Hollywood is currently very much into story structure. Books, treatments and scripts are analyzed by readers in terms of plot points — points where the plot turns. Are there enough? Are they in the right place? Other important buzz words, if you’re planning to pitch, are backstory, inciting incident, progressive complications, setups and payoffs, subtext. These are courtesy of Robert McKee’s screenwriting seminar. Everyone, it seems, in the business who can’t write has taken McKee’s course to figure out what people who can write should be doing. McKee has never written a screenplay that anyone will actually produce. Back in 1988 he charged $600 for a weekend seminar, $350 of one of his staff to produce a reader’s report, $1,000 for a personal consultation on your script. So he makes quite a good living just for sounding off. There are lots of cute and ambitious young women in the audience, so presumably he gets laid a lot. And that, by almost everyone’s standards, is a pretty good definition of success.”

1993 Footnote in American Hero, by Larry Beinhart (the novel that the movie Wag the Dog was based on).

Clarke's Three Laws

Today I found myself quoting Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It’s a very well known quote, of course, used throughout science fiction and media.

But in referencing it online, I was reminded that it was actually one of Clarke’s Three Laws of prediction. Specifically, number three. The first two are good to think about in reference to the stories on the table now, where I think they can inform us:

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. 2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Read more at Wikipedia.

The Subtext of the World

In his book, The Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille tells us that things and concepts, such as cheese, alcohol, love, and America, have a hidden code word that reveals their true meaning.

Escape Pod

Who the heck doesn't want good sci-fi stories read to them? I'm not raising my hand, that's for sure.

I've been involved lately in a series of long drives from Seattle to Coeur d'Alene, ID (about five hours each way) and our constant companion along the way have been CD's I burned from stories posted on Escape Pod, the best sci-fi podcast out there.

The stories are shortish, plot driven and "fun" (up to the definition of the editor, but so far his fun is pretty close to my fun too). Better yet, he pays his writers. Best of all, he released the whole shebang under a Creative Commons license.

When the day is long, posts to our blogs are short and inspiration is spread thin, nothing gets the mind crackin' like a good story. Go listen to a few today.

Note to self: remember the sounds

There was an amazing bit on NPR's Morning Edition earlier today about some of the sounds in the dense neighborhoods surrounding the Forbidden City in Bejing. I think it's worth a listen for the wild and varied things you hear.

I was thinking about those sounds, which stopped me dead in my tracks, and how as writers we need to shape the world of the characters. Especially in movies sound is important and omnipresent. Don't forget to put them into worlds with noises that can confuse, startle and interact with them. Sound can be character as much as visual. In official news:

Burley, you said you had some ideas about this you wanted to go over? Cuz I'm ready to jump in with character bios.

Go man go! I'm ready too.

Inspiration in a lens

Inspiration: I take it anywhere I can get it, although as we've discussed before, our problem is not so much ideas but the time to express them. Maybe that's the basis of our philosophy that the real work is the execution. I'll bet there are diligent writers for whom the idea part is the hardest.

If you're one of them you might find inspiration at Big Happy Fun House, one of my favorite blogs. It's only vintage photos--new ones every day, cherry picked and edited by a guy with a great eye.


His shadows series was particularly good, I thought.

Trickster Raven Deserves a Movie

Northwest Coast Indians have an amazing visual art tradition--one of the most developed of any indigenous peoples in the world. Cultures like the Haida in British Columbia have an astounding history of a complex visual language. Bill Reid, the most famous Haida artist--and possibly the most famous native artist--of the 20th century said this:

Art can never be understood, but can only be seen as a kind of magic, the most profound and mysterious of all human activities. Within that magic, one of the deepest mysteries is the art of the Northwest Coast -- a unique expression of an illiterate people, resembling no other art form except perhaps the most sophisticated calligraphy.

Re: Wednesdays with Cranky

Ironically (in light of my post last night), today in the Stranger, Brendan Kiley took local theater critics to task.

Tuesdays with Morrie is pap and the critics know it... But instead of indicting the play, the critics indict themselves. Why is this play tying them into knots?

I'm no reviewer or critic, and certainly not one of the ones he's talking about, but I couldn't help laugh when I read that. I did exactly what he said.

Although, my point ended up being more about the elitism of many critics, his is really about the nature of the play and why it incites such responses.

Still, it's a good point to make--I think I tempered my harshness because of my interest in not being an asshole critic, but strove instead to let people be who they are and make their own choices in what to like and what not to. That said, I should really just get with it and remember that my opinion will likely mean little to anybody, and those that might be insulted by it will: 1) not likely read this blog, and 2) it's goddamned egotistical of me to assume that I'm influencing anybody.

In the end, though, I guess I strive to at least be entertaining in my wrath--succeed or not. I'll name my next review The Punches Less Pulled. Oh, and just for the record: we were season ticket holders. Morrie was the last show of the season.

Wednesdays with Cranky

Let's just make it bitch night in general around here. I just got back from seeing the Seattle Rep staging of Tuesdays with Morrie. The acting was fine, the staging was impressive, the story just interesting enough. I spent the hours it was unfolding in front of me trying to figure out exactly how they were moving all the props around. Occasionally I'd remember there were people on stage too.

They say that movies are about emotions, books are about ideas, and plays are about conversations. So, here we have a conversation of aphorisms between a wayward student who is unhappy (but here's the rub: he doesn't know it yet) with his successful career and new bride, and a happy nub of a man who is all charm and joi d'vivre--oh, the irony, she is a cruel mistress--for this man who loves life is dying.

Let's watch him die, shall we? Gather around, ye in the expensive seats, and ye in the cheap sets--you shall all witness together. Did you remember your hankies ladies? The darkened room will be lifted by the sniffing of many noses--anonymous people shedding bodily fluids in amazingly close proximity--while on stage this man--a man who was a sociology professor for 30 some years, who published three books, who taught some of the Yippies before they got radical we are told, who influenced thousands of students over many years--this man seemingly quotes chicken-soup-for-the-soul for his student who -- maybe he never watched Hallmark theater? -- has never heard anything so profound as "Love always wins."

Am I a total asshole for even approaching it so cynically? I mean, here's a book that has moved millions of people, and tonight all of our friends that we went with were incredibly touched.

Getting Real

Both Shockah and I have been quite inspired by reading the book by 37 Signals titled Getting Real. It's about designing web applications, but really is good general advice as well for creatives and creative pursuits. This quote, from CD Baby founder Derek Sivers, particularly struck me, especially considering that the sentiment is similar to our Statement of Purpose:

Could 1024 Japanese Schoolchildren Be Wrong?

I would guess not:

Click for a larger view and check out the little uniforms!

Make your own at http://www.madin.jp/ouen/index.html

Reading List: The Real Prison Planet

We make jokes of the ethical and philosophical implications of a prison planet, but this today on Morning Edition I heard Renee Montagne interview author John Tayman (audio of program available at link) about his book "The Colony" in which he describes the real history of lepers on the Hawaiian Islands, and how they were banished to Molokai during the 19th Century.

It also raises the issues of plot that I hadn't thought about: in this case, lepers who wanted to avoid banishment would act out, murdering doctors, or hiding somehow. If they were caught, they were sent to Molokai where they were banished on a volcanic beach with a hoe and told to make a life of it. This makes me think of our screenplay with a more human aspect--plot ideas about the person being banished, and the fear that this must strike. We are, after all, social animals. What's a stronger punishment than banishment? Isn't that essentially what prison's are?

For these new arrivals on leper Molokai, previous colonists would often work to scare and intimidate them. The buying and trading of women and children were common. Interestingly, though, the colony grew into a very tight cooperative community, and when it was broken up, some chose to stay behind and continue to live there.

I'm putting this one on my reading list--it will likely be most informative to our cause. Depending, of course, on what plot we decide.

Brief Moment of Inspiration

January 16, 2006 · by Burley Grymz · Permalink · Category: Original Version, inspiration

I was flipping through an online book on the programming language Python, and came across this great quote. It may be about computer programming, but it applies to writing, plots and other logics:

There are two ways of constructing a software design: one way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies; the other is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.
--C. A. R. Hoar

Reading List: Alfred Bester

"Reading List" is a new feature I just made up because I need to get my Spitball! quota out of the way. Whether or not it's a continuing feature is up to time and tide. Also, the link to the forum will take you to the "Books" section of the forum, because, well, that makes sense.

Alfred Bester (1913 - 1987) was a SF writer, best known for two seminal novels, The Demolished Man and The Stars, My Destination. Check out the Wikipedia entry for more info cuz the Shockah aint about no biographical sketches. Instead, Reading List is about how these books might inform The Screenplay.

The Suggestive Title Inn

January 10, 2006 · by Burley Grymz · Permalink · Category: Original Version, inspiration

Picture of Motel Oral

Oh please, oh please, Mr. Shockah--can we write a scene that takes place here?
(found on Motel Hell)