Saturday, August 19, 2017

'My Life as a Zucchini' is a solid animation.

Like many others, if I have to choose between watching a live action movie or an animated film, it's usually an easy decision. In most cases I'll watch the animated film, because it's much more likely to put me on a better mood.

After all, when it comes to animations, you don't judge characters in them the way you judge actors in live action movies. There's no prejudice involved with animated characters, which makes watching them so much easier.

In that sense, it wasn't a difficult decision to give a chance for a French animated film called 'My Life as a Zucchini'. This is a movie that was nominated at this year's Academy Awards in the best animated film category.

In essence, the movie tells a story about a young boy called 'Courgette' (Zucchini). Once he becomes an orphan, he is moved to an orphanage, where he meets other kids who haven't been fortunate in their lives either.

Over the course of the film's one hour length, the animation deals with all kinds of issues that have to do with the main character's situation. There's stuff about abandonment, friendship, acceptance and making the best out of what you have.

When it comes to 'My Life as a Courgette', very likely the best thing about it has to do with how simplistic and how down to earth it is. The themes in it are clear and there isn't anything in the film that doesn't belong to it or that feels forced.

Unlike in most movies, almost all the characters in it are likable and relatable. Every person in the orphanage, including the personnel, are characters that you can relate to and who are trying to work in the best interest of the kids.

When it comes to the animation in the movie, the stop motion technique works really well. It's a real pleasure to watch these characters and how the makers of the film have managed to make them so lively and full of emotion.

These high quality production values also apply to the voice acting. Especially when it comes to the original French version of the film, you can't help but to fall in love with these characters and how authentic they sound.

If there's anything in the movie that could have been better, I guess it has to be said that the ending for it was a bit lacking. The movie should have gone a bit longer so that the last fifteen minutes of the film could have had a better flow.

At least in my opinion, the last phase could have used a couple more extra scenes that would have made the ending more satisfying. There was something missing from the script that made the finale a little bit underwhelming.

Still, despite these fairly minor flaws in the film, it has to be said that I'm glad that I managed to watch 'My Life as a Courgette'. It's good to notice that movies like these exist and that they're not all the same old, same old.

As a whole, even though the film doesn't sugar coat things and doesn't shy away from real stuff, it manages to entertain. It manages to give you hope and makes you feel that just because things aren't going your way, life can still get better.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ideas vs. execution in quality screenwriting.

When it comes to ideas and execution in screenwriting, there's an age-old saying which says that 'good ideas are a dime a dozen and it's the execution of your idea that counts' when it comes to writing a good screenplay.

According to this saying, no matter how good your idea is, your idea is just an initial premise and only the first step in the process. Executing it doesn't guarantee that your premise will necessarily lead to anything good.

I've been thinking about this idea vs. execution thing especially after managing to finish my very first movie screenplay. Why is it that the execution counts so much and why your initial idea doesn't necessarily mean that much?

Very likely the best way to answer to this question is by saying that 'a good idea' really is just the first idea that you need for your story. In order to write a solid screenplay, you need to come up with a lot of 'good ideas' before your work is done.

By that I mean that any good screenplay is going to have at least a couple of dozen solid ideas in it. These solid ideas are what keep the story and the characters going and that keep the audience interested in what's going on.

It simply isn't enough to think that one super special idea is going to be all that it takes. It's not enough to think that just because you managed to come up with a 'great' idea, you can now start slacking with your project.

On the contrary, you need to have a lot of ideas and you need to have a good judgement about how to execute them. You need to be able to figure out which of your ideas make sense and which aren't good enough as a whole.

At the same time, when we're talking about how important the execution part is, this is not to say that having a good first idea isn't important. I'm not saying that you can slack with your premise as long you're willing to execute your script well.

As unfortunate as it is, when it comes to most screenplays, the basic idea in most of them just isn't good enough. The 'ideas' that they're based on aren't solid enough and don't have enough potential to become quality scripts.

In reality, if your premise and your idea isn't good enough, no amount of 'hard work' is going to save your screenplay. These 'weak premise' screenplays are never going to work, no matter who is going to be in charge of writing them.

In that sense, even though it's true that your 'great idea' by definition isn't all there is to the process, it still counts. That's why you should always make sure that your premise does have enough merit and that it's believable enough.

After all, by making sure that you have a good premise, it's going to be much easier to start developing your screenplay. If you're willing to pay attention to the basics, it's much more likely that your script as a whole has more potential.

As a whole, not only is there a better chance that your characters are going to work, but there's also a chance that you're going to create storylines that respect the premise. This way your script might actually work at some point.

In the end, when it comes to writing good screenplays, it really pays off if you manage to come up with a solid, workable idea. It pays off far more often if you're willing to come up with a premise that people might actually get interested in.

The truth is that if you're smart enough or lucky enough to get a solid premise, there's a much better chance that you'll create something good. It makes the writing process a lot more tolerable and a lot easier as a whole.

On the other hand, if you're not willing to pay attention to your basic story idea, you're going to be in big trouble. If you're not willing to make sure that your story idea makes sense, things are not going to work out for you.

In that case, all that hard work with the screenplay will likely be in vain. Instead of creating something solid, you'll end up working with a script that doesn't have enough merit and doesn't have what it takes to keep us entertained.

Friday, July 28, 2017

What is the most important rule in writing?

Even though there are a lot of good rules when it comes to writing, some rules are more important than others. No matter how good you are as a writer, some of these rules are so important that you should almost never break them.

For example, when it comes me, I pretty much always try to obey the rule of 'finish what you start writing'. No matter what happens, I try to get the task done, so that I could feel better about myself and that I could move on to something else.

Still, even though this 'finish what you start writing' is a super important rule, it's not the most important rule about writing. Writing and managing to finish your screenplay is only the second most important part about writing.

At least in my opinion, the most important rule about writing has to do with 'publishing' and 'rewriting'. No matter how good you are as a scribe, you should never publish stuff without rewriting it - unless you absolutely have no other choice.

By that I mean that it's almost impossible to ever get everything right in your first draft. It's pretty much guaranteed that every single time you will make some fairly big mistakes that you won't be able to pick up right away. 

When it to comes rewriting and getting things right, there are no quick fixes for it. It always takes time and you need to be able to clear your mind, get a fresh pair of eyes and more or less forget what you managed to write earlier.

Writing good stuff simply isn't about who's the fastest writer or who's the first to get certain amount of words on paper. It's not about rushing to the finish line and thinking that being fast makes you somehow special as a writer.

On the contrary, writing good stuff is always about being aware of your flaws and being aware of you making mistakes. It's about being aware of your weaknesses as a writer and knowing where you're likely going to go wrong.

Especially when it comes to me, I have too many times published scripts and articles without thinking them through enough. I have written them in a hurry and thought that there was no difference whether I gave them another look or not.

If only I had understood earlier that I didn't have to publish everything right away as a writer. If I had only understood that writing is so much more about rewriting than it's about being fast, things would have been so much better.

As a whole, even though it's obviously important that you almost always have to 'finish' your projects, that itself isn't all there is to writing. It's not the only thing that matters and counts when it comes to creating quality stuff.

On the contrary, being too content with having finished your first draft doesn't mean that your job is now done. It doesn't mean that you have figured everything out and that you can now start slacking with your project.

In reality, writing your first draft is only the first part in the writing process. It's only the first step, and in most cases you have to do a lot of rewrites before you can be certain and confident that your script is in good shape.

In that sense, there is absolutely no shame in not getting everything right the first time. There's no shame in admitting that you made a lot of mistakes in your first draft and that you still need more time to get everything figured out.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I finally managed to write my first film screenplay.

One of the biggest fears that I've had as a writer is that I'd never be able to write an original film screenplay. I was genuinely afraid that I didn't have it in me and that the best I could do was to write scripts for existing television shows. 

After all, writing movie screenplays takes a lot of effort and hard work. It takes so much discipline, creativity and persistence that I didn't think I would be able to come up with a script that would be good enough for my standards.

Nevertheless, even though I thought I didn't have it in me, three days ago I managed to finish the first draft of my first script. I managed to overcome the odds and managed to create something that I thought would never happen.

When it comes to me writing the script, there are at least three reasons why I was being able to finish it successfully. These reasons are: 1) having the need to write 2) having the discipline to write and 3) simply getting lucky.

In my case, the first reason of 'having the need to write' meant that I was desperate to write something that would challenge me. I wasn't feeling well at all - for certain reasons in my life - so I had to find a constructive way to deal with my emotions.

If I hadn't been feeling so bad inside, there's pretty much no chance that I would have started writing the script. In that case I would still be writing this blog without having had the courage to step outside of my comfort zone.

The second crucial factor in the process had to do with having a lot of discipline and persistence. I had a fairly steady writing routine, which more or less forced me to write every day, including during the weekends.

In practice this meant that every single day I needed to spend at least three-four hours writing. No matter what happened during the day, I had to get results on paper that showed that I was taking my task seriously.

It simply wasn't enough that I would just write some random nonsense and that I'd call the day after that. I had to come up with real ideas that would progress the story and that these ideas would actually have to make sense.

When it comes to the third and the 'luck' part in the process, I think I was really fortunate during the writing process. Most of the time things - with certain exceptions of course - went as well as I could have ever hoped.

By that I mean that when I kept writing the script, pretty much every day I managed to come up with stuff that kept me going and that pushed the story forward. There were no days when I felt that I didn't get further with the script.

Especially when it came to creating the second main character, which also gave me the B-story, I consider myself to be super lucky. This is what gave me the 'Eureka' moment and made me feel that I might understand how storytelling works.

When it came to me having difficulties during the writing process, the biggest 'all is lost' moment happened when I was about to start rewriting. This is when it became obvious that I had made some mistakes and that I had to think about the story again.

Especially when it came to the second half in the script, things didn't make sense and there was no flow in the story. I was genuinely desperate and felt that there's no way on earth that I would get the script fixed.

Fortunately for me, even though these mistakes seemed huge at first, in the end they weren't that hard to fix. After getting some rest, I managed to solve pretty much all the problems that had to do with the structure in just a matter of hours. 

All in all, when it comes this whole process, it has to be said that I was very fortunate and that I got lucky. I feel so fortunate that I finally managed to finish this screenplay and that despite my doubts I proved myself that I could get the job done.

Even though these were admittedly one of the hardest two weeks in my life as a writer, I have no regrets about the process. It was definitely an experience worth going through, even though there were moments when I felt like dying.

In that sense, considering how awful I was feeling and how bad shape I was in only three weeks ago, it feels almost redundant whether the screenplay is good enough to be produced and whether it's good enough to win any awards.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

'Life is Strange' is a fairly solid interactive game.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that there was an interesting story driven game available on Playstation Plus. Anyone who had an active subscription on the network, was able to download a PS4 version of 'Life is Strange' for free.

Naturally, since the game had received pretty good reviews, it wasn't a difficult decision to give the game a chance. I had to check how good it was and whether it was worth the praise that it had gotten from most of the critics.

Having now completed the game, I have to say that I was mostly positively surprised by how well it was made. In most aspects, 'Life is Strange' is really engaging and makes you care about its characters and what happens to them.

One of the best things about this interactive game is that it pays attention to the basics and things that matter. Its storylines revolve around themes and issues that most of us can relate to and can empathize with.

When it comes to its characters, its main protagonist is an art student called Max. She, as a female protagonist is a likable person, who tries to help others and tries to save them from getting into trouble in their lives.

What makes the story and the game so interesting and engaging, is that our main protagonist has an ability to go back in time. She has an ability that allows her to go back in time when something bad and unfortunate happens.

Over the course of the game, she finds herself in numerous situations where she tries to change things for the better. She not only tries to change people's lives and save them, but she also has to deal with something bigger too.

Trying to do all of things at once, of course, is much easier said than actually done. As we as players of the game eventually notice, for every action that she makes, there's a reaction and a consequence that has to be dealt with.

At least when it comes to me, I enjoyed playing 'Life is Strange' the most during its first three chapters. This is when the story and the characters are at their best and when the storylines feel really plausible and relatable.

Especially when it comes to what happens at the end of the second episode, I have to admit that scene is likely the most touching that I've experienced in a game. The ending to this chapter is genuinely that moving and touching.

However, when it comes to the last two chapters in the game, it has to be said that the story starts to drag a bit and doesn't always make sense. There are certain problems with the characters and their motivations that cannot be ignored.

This is especially true in the last chapter, where it becomes obvious that the main story arc isn't strong enough. The main storyline becomes a bit too muddled and the 'choices' that you can make aren't that plausible or interesting.

Still, despite these somewhat obvious flaws in the game and despite the game having some tonal and 'choice' problems, I mostly enjoyed playing it. It manages to engage you and is also surprisingly moving in certain places.

In that sense, if you're like me and enjoy playing story and character driven games that manage to be down to earth, maybe you should give it a chance. You should give the game a chance and see how much you'll like it.

After all, 'Life is Strange' - at least in my case - managed to surprise with its sincerity and honesty. It surprised me and showed that you don't always need explosions, action and gun fights to keep you entertained and immersed in the experience.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Oliver Stone's Putin Interviews on Showtime.

I don't know about you, but when I heard that Oliver Stone was going to make a four part interview with Russia's president Vladimir Putin, I was pretty excited. I was looking forward to learning more about what was going on in Moscow under Putin's leadership.

After all, Russia and its president have been all over the news lately. It's hard to imagine anyone not having heard about Russia's alleged election 'hack' in the United States, their involvement in Syria or their recent annexation of Krimea.

Having now seen all four parts of the documentary, I have to say that as a whole, this series about Oliver Stone talking with president Putin is pretty well made. It manages to keep you interested surprisingly well and is fairly entertaining too.

When it comes to the documentary, very likely the most interesting aspect of it has to do with its access and openness. At least seemingly, president Putin gives Stone an access to see a lot of things that are currently going on inside Kremlin.

In the film, probably thanks to Stone's reputation as a curious and an honest person, Putin gives a tour inside the executive office building. This complex, that is situated in Kremlin, has been strictly off limits for most westerners for decades.

During the visit inside the offices, Putin seems like a jovial and an every day person. He even apologizes to Stone and the crew for not having cleared the place for visitors, which gives an impression of openness and spontaneity.

Later on - while Putin and Stone discuss Edward Snowden - he himself drives Stone to his summer house, 'dacha'. This beautiful and historic place is where they continue their discussion about history and Russia's current policies.

Over the course of the documentary, Putin also invites Stone to watch himself play ice-hockey with legendary russian hockey players in an annual gala game. This is where Putin gets to show his skills, even though he isn't much of a player himself.

In order to show how trustworthy Russia is as a 'partner', Putin even lets Stone and the filming crew watch a live feed of an on going air strike in Syria (picture above). This, if anything should convince that Russia is open and can be trusted.

When it comes to this film's substance and things that matter, I guess a case can be made that the documentary isn't that hard hitting. It's fairly obvious that the purpose of the series isn't to be too hostile or confrontational towards Russia.

In fact, Stone's documentary is so Putin friendly, that it has been purchased by one of the state controlled networks in Russia. This clearly indicates that people in Kremlin are fairly happy with how the the series turned out.

Still, Stone being mostly cordial towards Putin in these discussions doesn't change the fact that the documentary has merit. At least in my view, Putin manages to make a lot of good points over the course of the film that are hard to argue against.

For example, when it comes to Ukraine and the annexation of Krimea, Putin has a relatively good explanation for it. The annexation - at least in his view - was more or less a consequence of a neocon/CIA-backed coup attempt that didn't work as planned.

When it comes to Nato, it's not a secret that the defense organization has been aggressively expanding towards Russian borders over the last 10+ years. Almost all the countries that were part of the Warsaw pact have switched sides and are now against Russia.

When it comes to Russia battling Isis in Syria, it's true that Russians are doing most of the air strikes. Even though they're also responsible for most of the collateral damage, they're the only country operating there at the behest of the Syrian government.

Naturally, the most currently 'important' aspect of the documentary has to do with the U.S presidential election and how Russia supposedly 'hacked' the election. This is what might probably interest the U.S. audiences the most.

Even though it's apparent that Putin doesn't seem convincing when he talks about the Russians not spying on the U.S. government, these hacking claims still seem far fetched. They don't seem likely considering all those other things that we know.

After all, as Putin keeps pointing, the biggest reason for the hacking claim is to distract us from what happened during the democratic primary last year. Hillary's victory against Bernie was a result of cheating and unfair electioneering.

According to Putin, even if Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, everything that was leaked was factual and correct. These leaks were truthful and showed how the fix was in for neoconservative Hillary Clinton.

Putin argues that this is one of the main reasons that the neocons and the so called mainstream media in the U.S. are so firmly against Russia. These exposes of corruption are the reason why the U.S. corporate media is all about blaming them 24/7.

At least in my opinion, these arguments that Putin makes, are mostly fairly logical and make sense. Even though one might not agree with everything that he says, I think it's safe to say that he makes at least some good points.

In that sense, if nothing else, this documentary about president Putin serves as a reminder of how little in general we know about current world affairs. It serves as counter propaganda against what we see on the news and read from the mainstream press.

As a whole, even though it's true that Stone doesn't always follow up with his questions, that doesn't mean that the documentary as a whole doesn't have value. It doesn't mean that it doesn't inform its audience or challenge our view points.

On the contrary, one of the best things about the series is that it shows how incredibly knowledgeable and informed both Stone and Putin are about history. Both clearly know what they're talking about and put us in the audience to a test.

In the end, the series leaves it up to us to decide what is true and what is not. It's up to us to decide as arm chair historians how much of it we're willing to believe and what are the views that we might and might not agree with.

In that sense, if you feel like spending time with a respected film maker and the leader of the Russia, you should probably give the film a chance. You should give it a chance and check how good the series is and how much you'll like it.

As a whole, Oliver Stone's interviews with president Putin not only is an informative documentary, but in my opinion, it's also a documentary that keeps you entertained and makes you want to learn more about history and current world affairs.

Monday, June 12, 2017

There are no shortcuts in interactive storytelling.

Anyone who knows anything about storytelling and writing, knows that it's not an easy craft. It's not easy to come up with a story and characters that your audience is going to find relatable and worth following.

This is especially true when it comes to storytelling that has to do with gaming. It's not easy to come up with a story based pc or a console game that has the ability to keep you entertained throughout its 10 hour plus length. 

So knowing that creating a story driven game isn't easy, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there have been attempts at finding new solutions to the craft. There have been attempts at finding new ways to tell a story in games.

Very likely the most 'ambitious' new approach to storytelling has had to do with 'choices' and how we as gamers are supposed to be more in charge of the story. We are supposed to be able to make decisions that affect how the game turns out.

What this basically means is that when we're playing the game, at some point we'll face situations where we get to choose what happens next. We get to choose between a couple of options that have to do with what our protagonist does.

This means that during the game, perhaps our main character wants to make a decision where he saves another character's life. Or perhaps he simply decides to take another route to a destination, thinking that it would be the best way to solve the problem.
  
When it comes to this kind of approach to gaming, it needs to be said that it hasn't been met with universal praise. Lots of gamers have pointed out how this 'let the gamers choose' doesn't work nearly as well as one might hope.
 
For example, gaming companies tend to exaggerate how much players can actually affect the storylines in their games. In most cases the important parts in the story can't be changed at all, no matter how we choose over the course the game.

Yet, a much bigger problem with this concept has to do with how the writers and the producers might get too preoccupied with the concept. They might get too invested in it and forget the basics of the game and how storytelling really works.

For example, when I played 'Quantum Break' last year, it was obvious that the producers had forgotten the basics of storytelling. They didn't pay enough attention to their story and their premise so that the characters and the storylines would have worked.

Instead of making sure that the story as a whole was coherent, the writers were too obsessed with how 'precious' their idea and concept was. They kept micromanaging their story threads and 'choices' that we as gamers would be making.

Not surprisingly, Quantum Break tanked when it came to both its critical reviews and its sales. Despite a massive push by Microsoft, the game didn't manage to sell even 10% of the copies that Uncharted managed to sell on Ps4.

In that sense, when it comes to writing and producing games that have to do with interactive 'choice' storytelling, we should be cautious about how we approach the concept. It's a challenging idea that requires a lot of effort and talent in order to work.

As far as I'm concerned, letting gamers 'choose' what happens too easily leads to writers cutting corners. It too easily leads to muddled storylines that feel derivative and contrived instead of feeling organic and natural.

Even though it's true that the concept might require a lot of effort and planning from writers, that by itself doesn't mean that much. It doesn't automatically mean that the end product is going to be any good or that it's going to make sense. 

On the contrary, we shouldn't forget that quality storytelling always has to do with simplicity and making things as easy and as enjoyable as possible. It's about coming up with storylines and characters that are clear, well motivated and relatable.

In that sense, if you're not willing to take these aspects of the craft into consideration, things aren't going to work out for you. Your 'ambitious' project won't work, no matter how hard and no matter how much you're willing to work.

Instead of creating a solid product that almost everyone can enjoy, you'll create a disappointing and a lackluster game. You'll create a game that lacks quality, because you didn't pay attention to the basics and because you didn't pay attention to things that matter.