Sunday, August 31, 2008

Paranoia and Reality TV

A recent article in the New York Times reveals that reality television is becoming the new model for people with paranoia...

The Truman Show delusion, or Truman Syndrome, has drawn attention in recent months, in the United States and Britain, as psychiatrists in both countries describe a small but growing number of psychotic patients who describe their lives as mirroring that of the main character in the 1998 film “The Truman Show.”

Played by Jim Carrey, Truman Burbank leads a mundane existence in the suburbs, starting from the time he was in the womb, while being filmed for a documentary television show that he cannot escape. Everyone is in on it, including his wife, and no one will believe Truman when he discovers clues that his life is being chronicled all the time by cameras.
This is exactly what I was thinking when I first saw The Truman Show: This is going to feed a lot of people's paranoia.

Back in the Cold War, paranoid people thought they were being watched by the CIA or KGB. Now, they tend to believe they are part of a reality TV show, with hidden cameras recording their every move.

As with other delusions, this one could be true. The unrealistic part is only that some agency or network would care enough about you to bother monitoring you. That's the core of paranoia: someone thinking he is more important to others than he really is. When someone is "out to get you," it at least means that someone cares. Even if terrifying, paranoia is better than being alone and unnoticed, which is why the delusion persists.

Photos from New Orleans

In honor of it possibly being obliterated by Hurricane Gustav tomorrow, here are my photos from New Orleans (58 photos). They were taken on Thursday, two days before the evacuation. Samples...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Kentwood, Louisiana: Home of Britney Spears

A friend of mine is a professional Britney Spears impersonator (excuse me, "tribute performer"), so while I was driving through Louisiana, I thought it would be amusing to stop in Britney's childhood home town, Kentwood, which my friend has never visited. I expected something tacky but what I found was more touching and meaningful, at least to me. It was like finding the "Rosebud" of Citizen Kane.
These were very humble beginnings. Kentwood is a fading farming town about an hour and a half north of New Orleans. It is on I-55 close to the border of Mississippi, and the nearest big town is McComb, Mississippi, where Britney was born on Dec. 2, 1981 (wikipedia on Britney). The latest population figure is a little over 2000 souls, which I gather hasn't changed much since Britney's youth. Downtown is now now 90% derelict, sucked dry by the giant Wal-Mart in McComb. Some of the downtown stores don't even have roofs anymore.
This is a typical farming community in Middle America, more resembling the midwest than Louisiana. There are train tracks running through town and lots of big trucks carrying cattle and logs down the main street. There's a shiny Sonic drive-in restaurant near the freeway, but most other businesses look a little frayed at the edges. The high school is the "Home of the 'Roos" (as in kangaroos) and indeed there is something of an isolated outback feeling here.
I knew this was the right place because a sign on the north side of town said, "Welcome to Kentwood, Home of Britney Spears." However, there was no other obvious evidence of her presence. It took only about a half hour to explore the main roads of town, then I sat in the car and looked up Kentwood on the web. It turned out there was a community historical museum just a block away, and it had a Britney Spears display!
The museum was a former house with about six rooms. Admission was free, and I was the first person to sign the guest book in several days. About half of the floor space was devoted to Kentwood boys who had served in various past wars. The other half was dedicated to Britney. A small elderly woman manned the front desk (apparently the curator). She was dry and humorless at first but warmed up as I talked with her. She said photography was not allowed, so I left my camera at the desk as she gave me a tour.

None of the displays were very polished, and therein lay their charm. The Britney section wasn't what you would expect for a multi-million-dollar star. It was more like what a community might put together if their cheerleading squad had won the state championships.

The curator took me into a room with the lights turned off. She said the darkness was important to get the full effect of what I was about to see. I was confused about which way to face, but she eventually got me oriented correctly, then she plugged a cord into the wall. A miniature stage lit up, and a recording of one of Britney's songs started playing. This was a 6-foot scale model of the stage used in Britney's "Dream within a Dream" tour, as shown on HBO. It was built about 4 years ago by a 30-year-old man in Oregon. It supposedly took him six months. The curator remarked that his wife must have been very tolerant.

We then passed into two rooms of Britney memorabilia--posters, photos, awards, etc.--most of which appeared to be donated by Britney and her family. Several things made an impression on me. One was a full-size reproduction of Britney's bedroom in Kentwood at about the time she first became famous at age 12. It was a small room, perhaps 10x8 feet, behind a plexiglas wall. Of course, it was the clean and tidy room as Britney and her family wanted to have it remembered, maybe not the messy and imperfect room she actually had, but it was still charming. You could think of it as her last symbol of innocence. After that, I suspect, there was little opportunity for childhood.

Another thing that impressed me was a montage of photos from the "Britney Day" celebration that the town held in 1993. In 1992, Britney had been chosen as a cast member in the New Mickey Mouse Club. In the photos at the celebration the next year, she was still very much a child.

I think this was the last and only Britney Day. From that point on, Britney's fame seemed to be more than the town could process. Indeed, I think it was more than Britney herself could process.

Some of the most poignant photos were hidden on a back wall. They were faded original snapshots taken when Britney was very young, just like you would find in someone's living room. The curator didn't seem to know much about Britney's childhood, but when I asked her what Britney's father did in Kentwood, she said she thought he was a contractor making metal buildings.

The curator said that Britney's family still had a house in town, but I didn't ask where. She said family members used to come into the museum frequently but she hadn't seen any of them in the last year.

The whole thing affected me much more than any slick display. What happened here is that an ordinary girl in an ordinary town suddenly became a princess. It's not surprising that there have been some bumps along the road. Making someone a child star is almost a form of child abuse, and very few survive it. Can anyone rocket into the stratosphere like she has and survive?

I got the unexpected feeling, after seeing the Britney section, that I had joined her community. I am not a fan; I just see her as a vulnerable human. My taste for ridiculing her has evaporated, because I see that she was caught up in forces beyond her control. All I want now is for her to be happy.

The curator never asked for any donation or admission charge. The museum has a few products for sale, but I had to ask about them. I was feeling generous at the time and spent about $20. I bought some photos of Britney, some local postcards and a coffee mug of the museum.

I also bought a publicity photo of Taylor Horn, another pop singer who happens to live in Kentwood. Taylor wasn't quite famous yet, but she looked famous in her publicity photos. She looked like she was in her 20s, but the curator said she was only 15.

I suspect that Taylor would like to follow in Britney's footsteps, but I'm not sure that's a good idea. It might be healthier if she takes her time.

Many more photos are available in my Kentwood Photo Album (60 photos).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Screen Story #11: "Titanic Gentlemen's Club"

FADE IN: We are aboard the RMS Titanic in 1912. Outside an elegant dining room is a sign on an easel: “RMS Titanic Engineer's and Ship Builder's Banquet.” Inside, about a dozen well-dressed men are seated around a large banquet table. Their leader, the MASTER DESIGNER proposes a toast to the safest and most technically advanced passenger liner in the world, the Titanic.
Just then, the ship hits the iceberg. We know this because the whole room shudders, and we hear the distant sound of twisting metal. The empty china on the table shifts a few inches but does not fall. There is momentary distress among the gentlemen in the room and major panic in the hallways outside. Members of the serving staff come into the room to announce that the ship just hit an iceberg and is sinking. They are followed by the panicked kitchen staff, who look like they are ready to abandon ship.
Then the MASTER DESIGNER speaks. His booming and authoritative voice silences everyone else’s. This ship will not be sinking, he announces. The men in this room designed and built her, so they know what she is capable of. He orders the cooks and servers back to their stations. “We will now have our entrée,” he says.
Both the staff and the men in the room seem to be reassured, and things go back to normal. As the main course is served, the MASTER DESIGNER explains that the ship is protected by water-tight bulkheads, 15 of them. (He points to them on a blueprint.) Judging from the movement of the china, the hull was penetrated in the bow, but at worst only one of the bulkheads was breached. The remaining bulkheads will hold firm and keep the ship afloat. The ship may be crippled and some passengers in the forward chambers, especially the steerage class, may perish, but the ship will make it to port.
The MASTER DESIGNER then launches into an inspirational sermon on the advantages of intellect over emotion. Let the common passengers panic, he says. Those in this room are men of science and analysis. Someone crying “iceberg” should not phase them, because they have intelligence and theory behind them.
“Now,” he says, “Let us enjoy our steak.”
The group seems inspired by the speech. Indeed they seem almost giddy about their special skills and inside knowledge. Most of them eat and drink heartily, except for one YOUNG ENGINEER, who can only stare down at his plate in distress.
“But what if the hatches aren’t closed?” he asks aloud.
Everyone else is instantly silenced. The YOUNG ENGINEER goes on to say that there are six passageway hatches through each bulkhead, and the bulkhead is waterproof only if the hatches are closed. Since no one was expecting the iceberg, the hatches were probably all open at the time.
A heated technical debate then ensues between the engineers, with the MASTER DESIGNER maintaining that the ship will stay afloat and the YOUNG ENGINEER insisting that it will sink. A lot of technical language is thrown back and forth as the whole group pores intensely over the blueprints at one end of the table.
Finally the group reaches a consensus: If there any hatches were open at the time of the collision—which was almost certainly true—then water will breach the second bulkhead, and a chain reaction will compromise all of the bulkheads and sink the ship. Even the MASTER DESIGNER is now convinced. Furthermore, the safety expert in the group announces that there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone, so any passenger who didn’t join the evacuation at the beginning probably won’t get a seat.
As if to confirm the diagnosis, the whole room suddenly lists to one side. Looking up from the blueprints, the men exchange shocked and frightened looks. Someone says: "We're doomed." The YOUNG ENGINEER was right! They all turn to look at him. The YOUNG ENGINEER is sitting at the other end of the table now, heartily eating his dinner. He appears cocky and proud to have made his point.
“Mmmm,” he says, “Good steak!"
Posted from Charlotte, North Carolina. © 2008, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. Also see my other screen stories

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Screen Story #10: "It's Now or Never"


SET-UP: We are inside a tacky Las Vegas wedding chapel. The ORGANIST is drunk and is hunched over on his keyboard, asleep. The MANAGER pokes him and he jumps into action, abruptly playing "Here Comes the Bride." A couple comes down the aisle. They are both dressed in casual tourist clothing. They approach the alter, toward the preacher who is turned away from them. The preacher turns around dramatically and we discover he is… ELVIS (or a reasonable facsimile). He launches into a well-practiced performance in which he sings a sappy love song, says something about the "joining of two hearts," then begins the legal wedding oath. He asks the GROOM if he takes this woman as his wife, and he says "I do." Then he asks the BRIDE.

IGNITION: The woman is tongue-tied. She looks around in a daze, recognizing what she is about to do. She shakes her head and starts pulling away. "No… no," she says, "This isn't right. I can't do it."

ACTION: The ceremony comes to a screeching halt. The GROOM draws the BRIDE aside, while ELVIS, the ORGANIST and the MANAGER awkwardly wait. He wants an explanation. The BRIDE gives a long list of reasons why the wedding shouldn't happen: They have only known each other two weeks; he's unemployed; he blew all his money on blackjack last night and she had to pay all their hotel bills this morning; a dozen past girlfriends have called him while they were together and he took all their calls; he is seriously behind on his child support payments from a previous marriage; he has been drunk half the time he has known her, and she would be embarrassed to take him home to her parents. He isn't even much good in bed because he is so insensitive and self-centered.

The GROOM is stunned. The case against him is overwhelming, and there is no way he can respond. He seems ready to accept defeat and leave the chapel.

SHIFT: Then ELVIS intervenes. Speaking in the inspirational voice of The King, he gives a corny little speech about love. (The ORGANIST even takes the hint and plays the appropriate background music.) Elvis says the course of true love never goes smoothly. Love is always a risk, he says, but to make it work, you have to be willing to take chances. Marriage is just like the lottery, he says: You never know if you've won if you don't buy a ticket.

He then begins singing, "It's Now or Never."

The BRIDE shakes her head, as if saying, "I can't believe this is happening." On one side is logic and common sense, and on the other is this cloying and manipulative sales pitch.

ELVIS urges the BRIDE to look deep within her heart before she walks away from this man. He asks her to come back to the alter.

TWIST: And she does! She picks herself up and goes back to her position. Elvis asks the question again, and she finally says, "I do."

RESOLUTION: The couple kisses, and ELVIS starts singing another love ballad. The couple walks hand-in-hand out of the chapel, but ELVIS keeps singing. When the song is over, it is just him and the ORGANIST in the chapel.

"Thank you," says ELVIS to an imaginary audience. "Thank you very much."

© 2008, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. Also see my other screenplays

BTW: Here are the lyrics for "It's Now or Never."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Screen Story #9: "Flexmaster 2000"

Here is a short screenplay treatment in my new "atomic" format...

"Flexmaster 2000"

SET-UP: Sometime in the late 20th Century, A FAT MAN is sitting in a padded recliner in his cramped, dimly-lit living room watching an old-style television. He is flipping through channels when he comes to an infomercial for a piece of exercise equipment. It is the "Flexmaster 2000," a big, complicated device with many arms, wheels and pulleys that supposedly turns fat men into thin and muscular ones. The buff men who use the machine who are seen attracting sexy bikini-clad women. The machine guarantees results in two weeks or your money back. The ad warns, however: "Some assembly required." The announcer urges the FAT MAN to "make the call now and change your life forever."

IGNITION: The FAT MAN calls the number on the screen.

ACTION: A week later, the Flexmaster 2000 arrives in a huge box. With great exertion, the FAT MAN pulls the box into his living room, then he follows the extremely convoluted instructions for assembly while the television plays in the background. Eventually, the complicated machine is assembled in the middle of the living room, facing the television. The FAT MAN then changes into a comically stylish workout outfit, including matching sweatpants, sweatshirt, headband, leg warmers and running shoes. He mounts the machine, facing the television and prepares for his first workout. He presses "Start."

TWIST: A bendable arm from the machine swings out and smashes the screen of the TV set, rendering it inoperable. The machine doesn't appear to do anything else.

RESOLUTION: The FAT MAN is stunned. He looks at his beloved television, then at the infernal machine that killed it. Then he looks at the door. Around the edges of the door, we see bright outdoor light and we can faintly hear the sound of children playing. Still in his workout outfit, the FAT MAN cautiously approaches the door. He turns the doorknob, opens the door and steps outside into the sun.

© 2008, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.

This is my 9th screen story (see Index) and my second treatment in my new atomic format.

Notice that I have changed the header terms slightly: Set-Up/Ignition/Action/Twist/Resolution.

SET-UP is the background condition. It describes a setting in which nothing much has happened.

IGNITION is the point where some sort of action is initiated, destabilizing the Set-Up.

ACTION is the activity that naturally unfolds as a result of the Ignition.

TWIST is a sudden and radical change in perspective.

RESOLUTION shows the transformation that has taken place in response to the twist. The Resolution only happens in a complete film. If this is just one scene in a larger film, then there is no Resolution. Instead, the Twist just leads us into the next scene.

Photo source

Photos: Maine Highland Festival

I stumbled upon this event while traveling in Maine. Can you smell the haggis?

Here is the Full Album on Facebook.

I spent about an hour there, leaving when I ran out of subjects. It wasn't quite as colorful or interesting as a Renaissance festival.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Screenwriting Theory: The Atomic Treatment (Strawberry Fields)

While waking up this morning, I came up with a new screenwriting art form! I call it the “atomic treatment.” It is a whole scene or movie reduced to FOUR LINES.

An atomic treatment is the first thing you should write before attempting a longer treatment or a screenplay. Because it is only four lines, you can experiment with a lot of scenes in a short period of time before investing in heavier writing. Those four lines should be fascinating in themselves or it is not worth writing more.

The four lines of the treatment are labeled like this: SET-UP, CONFLICT, ACTION, TWIST. (Each “line” can actually be composed of several sentences.)

I have even written one to illustrate the concept….

SET-UP: A drug addict lies sprawled on a bed in his underwear. He is having a “bad trip,” revealed through a rapid series of disconnected flashbacks and fantasy images. He is walking in “strawberry fields forever” and is obviously disconnected from reality.

CONFLICT: The addict’s girlfriend comes in, realizes he is high and panics. She tells him he’s late for work, and that if he doesn’t get there he’s going to lose his job.

ACTION: The girlfriend and a series of other friends valiantly attempt to get the addict moving. They get him dressed, drive him to work, and usher him down an office hallway, while the addict fades in and out of reality. They encounter a uniformed officer in the hallway who quickly grasps what is happening. However, he doesn’t arrest the addict as expected but instead helps the others get him to his place of employment. They all seem to realize that if he loses his job, they do, too. They get him to a door, prop him up, put a black robe on him and push him through the door.
TWIST: He walks into a courtroom via the service door and becomes a judge! The bailiff says “All Rise!” The lawyers and litigants have all been waiting for him. He takes the bench, all are seated, and he says “Proceed.”

If I had time (which I don’t) I could turn this treatment into a longer one, adding complexity to it, eventually leading to a whole screenplay scene of anywhere from one to ten minutes.

But the advantage of an atomic treatment is that I have written it in a couple of minutes. It is already a whole story that stands on its own. We can discuss it, abandon it or file it away.

This simple concept is a lot more significant than it might seem. For me, it is the whole Rosetta Stone that unlocks screenwriting!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Area 51 Guide Service

I have started a new "Area 51 Guide Service"...


If you followed Area 51 in the 1990s, you may remember me. I'm Glenn Campbell (code name "Psychospy"), the original resident researcher in Rachel, Nevada. I am the author of the Area 51 Viewer's Guide and the Desert Rat Newsletter. I was featured in the New York Times, on a 2-hour Larry King special and in other countless TV shows, articles and news reports.

Now I'm back! I am not longer actively researching Area 51, but I've become more interested in the slice of history I participated in. If you, too, are amused be the "good old days" of Area 51 (i.e. the ancient 1990s), I'd be happy to lead you on a mini-adventure to the area to show you the base and talk about local lore. For $250 (plus expenses), I'll escort you or your group around the border of the secret base in a tour we will design together.

New Area 51 Blog

I've started a new blog on the "good old days" of Area 51...

My intro..
The legendary "Groom Lake Interceptors" (or "Area 51 Interceptors"), who haunted the border of the secret Nevada base in the 1990s, aren't dead yet (at least mostly). This blog will try to prove it.

I'm Kilroy, formerly known a "Psychospy." I was the de facto leader because I was the only one who was actually living near the base at the time. In January 1993, I moved from the Boston area to the tiny town of Rachel, Nevada, to explore the "base that wasn't there." At the time, Groom Lake was known to aircraft watchers and UFO buffs but was virtually unknown to the general public. I set about to change all that and succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. You've probably heard of Area 51 now!

Along the way, I met up with a motley crew of aviation watchers, journalists, engineers, freelance assassins and n'er-do-wells, and we teamed up to use our own special superpowers to attack the Area 51 problem. I can't say for sure that we accomplished anything, but we sure learned a lot along the way.

The Interceptors got a lot of publicity back in the day, but where are they now? We'll jump right in with some posts, and eventually we might find out.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Quotes from Jean-Paul Sartre

"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you."

"Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does."

"Man is fully responsible for his nature and his choices."

"If you are lonely when you're alone, you are in bad company."

"It is only in our decisions that we are important."

"I confused things with their names: that is belief."

"Life begins on the other side of despair."

"Evil is the product of the ability of humans to make abstract that which is concrete."

"I say a murder is abstract. You pull the trigger and after that you do not understand anything that happens."

"Only the guy who isn't rowing has time to rock the boat."

"Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal."

"Neither sex, without some fertilization of the complimentary characters of the other, is capable of the highest reaches of human endeavor."

One always dies too soon or too late. And yet, life is there, finished: the line is drawn, and it must all be added up. You are nothing other than your life."

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist."

"The best work is not what is most difficult for you; it is what you do best."

"The existentialist says at once that man is anguish."

"There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk."

"We do not judge the people we love."

"What do I care about Jupiter? Justice is a human issue, and I do not need a god to teach it to me."

"You must be afraid, my son. That is how one becomes an honest citizen."

Source: BrainyQuote

Friday, August 8, 2008

Motorcyle Ride through Chernobyl

One of my first short screenplays (#3: "Natasha") was loosely based on a character I saw online almost ten years ago: A girl with a motorcycle who investigates the devastation around the Chernobyl atomic plant. After some searching, I finally found her again...

Click on "beginning" for her original story. (Apparently, there is some skepticism of it on the 'net, but it's a great story nonetheless.)

My own script is about a girl with a motorcycle during the Soviet era. She is a superhero of some kind, but I'm not sure yet what she should do. Be recruited into the KGB? Fight for environmental justice? My heroine is a former Olympic gymnast who can to a lot of things beside ride motorcycles.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Screen Story #7: "The Ambassador is Recalled"

Here's a new screenplay scene I wrote this morning (8 pages). It is a small segment of a hypothetical movie, but it also stands on its own.

An alien ambassador in Nevada is recalled to his home planet.

Ambassador Merlyn Merlin II was a real character who I met at Area 51 (shown above). Here is a news article on his demise. (Obviously, I took some creative liberties.)

This is screen story #7. My other screenplays are found here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tribute to Glenn Campbell, aka "Psychospy"

On a discussion thread about 2 years old, some old timer's have some nice things to say about Glenn Campbell, aka "Psychospy" in his Area 51 days.

Selected quotes:
"Glen Campbell was definitely an inspiration to me, and his Area 51 website was a regular stop of mine."

"Yes, Glenn Campbell is my hero, i've always wanted to head out to Nevada to take Glenn's Place and continue his research."

"Reading ufomind as it was then always made you feel as though you were in Nevada, that all the information was easy to find and that climbing mountains was all in a days work. At the same time there was always an air of suspicion over Glenn, was it just his competitors trying to tar his brush or was there some truth in their claims? We'll never know but it certain kept your mind open.... One of the things I will always admire Glenn for was just suddenly leaving it all behind. Who today would make such a large web site, put years of research into it then just say "bye"... I would love to know what Glenn is up to these days, if only for curiosity."

"Ten-fifteen years ago, I was in high school. I remember taking an aviation class and we'd always have time to discuss "current events". Popular Science comes out with a huge spread on A51. Larry King did a taping from Rachel, which I taped. Glenn was a part of it all. Granted, there are lots of people, stories, claims, whatever; but Glenn really has a foothold in groundbreaking A51 research. I really don't think he or everybody has an idea about how many people he touched and influenced. He may not have started a craze, but how many of us can say we had a interest, moved there, and lived on A51 borders until we could take it no more. A lot of information we have regarding this place comes from Glenn and there is no way I can repay him. Last year I finally purchased his book, and I wish I had years earlier.... If there were ever somebody who deserved to visit such a secret, forbidden place, I think Glenn had earned his right."
Awww, makes me feel warm and fuzzy!

Reading things like this is bittersweet. I feel a little like the fictional band Spinal Tap, while on a disintegrating concert tour in the USA. They've just arrived in a new city for a concert, and in their hotel they hear one of their old songs playing on the radio, so they gather round to listen. Then the announcer says, "That's from Spinal Tap, now residing in the 'Where are they now?' file."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Deleted Entry

Pulp Fiction Covers

This collection of pulp fiction covers from the mid-20th Century is endlessly amusing.

There are some more science fiction book covers at the Monash Rare Book Collection.

Three Rules of Screenwriting

By Glenn Campbell

While reviewing the screenwriting exercise of my co-conspirator, I thought of several rules for the process. These aren't the only rules, just the ones I happen to think of when reviewing this work.

RULE #1: Never EVER start a scene at the beginning

The usual bland television style is to set the stage first with an establishing shot and then begin the action at the beginning, but that’s WRONG. Scenes (or movies) that start at the beginning are BORING. Did Citizen Kane start at the beginning? No, it started at the end! All great movies and movie scenes are like that: They jump into the MIDDLE of the scene, at the juiciest or most surreal part. From there, you can work back to the bigger picture.
Instead of starting with an establishing shot, why not start with a detail? Maybe we NEVER get the establishing shot, and NEVER see the whole environment. Maybe the whole story is better told in intimate detail with the rest of the environment merely implied. (At the least, details are a lot cheaper to film than the whole battle scene.)

RULE #2: In every movie and every scene of that movie there is a fundamental transformation, and you have to know what it is BEFORE you start writing

The “transformation” is a dramatic shift in perspective. It can be a change in a character, in the direction of the story or in what the audience knows. This transformation moves the story forward and is the whole purpose of the movie or scene. It is the central driving force for everything else that happens. The audience doesn’t know what this transformation will be -- It’s going to come as a surprise. – but you as the writer have to know before your start writing. It’s the main “magic trick” you are going to perform, so you have to know what the set-up is going to be.
The transformation can be described first in a sentence, then in a short treatment. There’s no sense in writing any of the dialog until you have a roadmap for where everything is going.

RULE #3: Write fiction, not history.

It is okay to be “inspired by a true story,” but once you are so inspired, you need to set reality aside and focus on what is symbolic and elemental about the story and, more importantly, what serves the transformation. Everything else about reality is just noise and has to be discarded.
What was actually said and done is not important. Instead, you’ve got to create something entirely new that serves your greater purpose. You HAVE to do this if you expect to fit all the complexities of a reality into a 90 minute film. In fact, you can’t do it! Reality is too complicated. Instead, you’re going to create a symbolic and stylized CARTOON of reality – like The Simpsons.
Once you create a cartoon character, you have to let it obey its own rules. Yes, The Simpsons have something to say about our reality, but first and foremost they must stand alone in their own reality. You can’t think, “What did Homer really say?” Instead you have to ask, “What WOULD Homer say, consistent with his cartoon personality.”

Got Porn?

Just before I got married a decade ago, my two adoptive sisters took me to a local porn superstore here in Las Vegas (the exact one pictured above - a virtual supermarket of porn and sex toys). It was our tongue-and-cheek version of a stag party. This was only about the second or third time any of us had been in a porn shop, and we were all profoundly unimpressed. Virtually all of the videos in the place concerned the introduction of objects into orifices. There was nothing remotely "sexy" in the whole store and hardly a hint of foreplay anywhere. There was a gay section but it wasn't much different--objects in orifices--and the only thing like a lesbian section was women inserting things into each other's crotches for the benefit of male viewers.

We asked the nice clerk if they had anything remotely "soft-core", and he replied politely, "Everything here is pretty hard-core."

So if this is a "superstore" presumably offering what the customers want, what does this say about the overwhelmingly male clientel? They are pretty, um, hardware oriented, wanting to see pure genital interaction with virtually no emotional engagement.

Men can be so mechanical! For a certain kind of autistic male (which could be 50% of the male population), even real romantic relationships boil down to hardware: what kind of body she has and how it can be consumed. Consumption of the body involves having sex with it. You keep track of the bodies you have sex with, sort of like plane spotters keeping track of the tail numbers of planes, and that becomes your life's work. Of course, these men have no idea what to do with the body after sex. That's not something they've thought through. They're a lot like dogs chasing cars: They're just following their instincts and don't know what they would do with the car if they ever caught it.

Female pornography is different. It is best represented by romance novels, which are almost all emotional engagement, which leads to genital interaction only in a long roundabout way. There are trials to go through first! As a bookseller, I've sold these novels, and some of them (like the Harlequin Blaze series) can get pretty steamy. Being a male, whenever I pick up one of these novels, I cut directly to the naughty bits. Evidently, women also enjoy the naughty bits, or they wouldn't be there, but they feel compelled to read the whole novel before getting to them. I think that's telling.

I don't mean to say that women are necessarily any deeper than men. Eavesdropping on single women talking about single men on internet forums, it seems to me that they can miss the boat just as easily as men can. "The Abductee" was meant to illustrate some of this – how clueless and gullible women can be about men, even in the face of obvious evidence right in front of them.

Both men and women tend to hopelessly idealize the other party and expect them to serve their own narcissistic needs. This leads to countless comedies/tragedies that arise not so much from the other party's treacheries but from the subject's own self-serving delusions that give the treacheries fertile ground to grow in.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Screen Story #6: "The Abductee"

Here is my latest screenplay treatment (#6). It is the 3-page summary for a 10-15 minute film.

The Abductee (pdf file)

A woman who claims to have been abducted by aliens tells her story to a TV crew, and it leads to an interesting terrestrial connection.

BTW: Here is a particularly lurid alien abduction photo. Who is the aggressor in this one?
For my other screenplays, see index.

Image sources:

Friday, August 1, 2008

Screen Story #5: "Plane Spotters"

Here is a short 4-page treatment for a 10-15 minute film concerning aviation buffs outside an unnamed military base. They receive an "alien visitition" they don't know how to deal with.

Plane Spotters (pdf file)

I don't have time to write the actual screenplay, as it would take a couple of days, but the treatment describes its general idea.

The military base isn't specified, but I picture Nellis Air Force Base, where I once hung out as a watcher.

This is my first "treatment," so the format may not be right. It is my 5th screen story. For others, see index.