Friday, March 16, 2018

Taking another look at shows that I didn't enjoy.

When it comes to most television shows, in most cases it's fairly easy to say that the series in question isn't any good. In most cases you can tell almost right away that a show isn't any good and that you shouldn't waste your time watching it.

After all, most shows tend to be so bad that they have no redeeming qualities about them. They are so bad that you have to wonder what the writers and producers were thinking when they decided to come up with them in the first place.

Still, sometimes when you watch these shows, the truth is that you aren't able to 'get' them right away. In some cases - whether we're talking about comedy or drama - it might take a while before you start appreciating them and find them to be well made.

So knowing this, I decided to check back on some of those shows that I either didn't like or didn't find to be entertaining enough. I decided to check whether some of these television shows could actually be worth my time this time.

The first series that I decided to give a second chance is sci-fi series 'Star Trek: Discovery' that airs on CBS All Access. This was the show that I couldn't stomach at all when I watched its first two or three episodes last fall.

The reason that I didn't like the show was that it had nothing to do with the original Star Trek. Unlike the original shows that were about hope, benevolence and humanity, this relaunch was all about confrontation, darkness and bellicosity.

So after I managed to give this show another chance (S1E13), it has to be said that things hadn't really changed for the better. I didn't manage to find a single good thing about this series that would have made me appreciate it this time either.

As sad as it is, none of the characters were relatable or likable in the episode that I watched. Our main character Michael Burnham (a female character) was still a sociopathic warmonger who wasn't able to control her emotions at all.

In that sense, it's safe to say that I can stick to watching 'The Orville' instead and not worry about 'Star Trek: Discovery' possibly getting better. There's no reason for me to start watching a series that is a disappointment in almost every possible way. 

The second television series that I decided to give another look is NBC:s comedy series 'The Good Place'. This is a show that I also found to be extremely lacking when it comes to its premise, characters and overall execution.

After all, when I watched the series the first time, I found it to be almost unbelievably juvenile. It felt as if the show about 'a bad person in heaven' was written by preteens who had no clue about life and had nothing meaningful to say about anything.

So when I gave the show another chance and watched the first episode of the show's second season, things unfortunately hadn't gotten any better. 'The Good Place' was still as dumb, unfunny and pointless as it had been in season one.

As unfortunate as it is, not only was the series still irrelevant and awful, it had even retooled its concept. The producers had decided that unlike in season one, the characters were actually in hell this season, which reeks of desperation.

Overall, even though television critics say that the second season is awesome, in reality the producers of the series have no clue what they're doing. They don't know what they're doing, so there's no reason for me to continue watching this show.

Finally, the third and the last series that I decided to give a second chance is HBO's popular 'Game of Thrones'. This a series that I had trouble watching, because I found it to be too violent and because the narrative in it was too fragmented.

By that I mean that when I first watched it, I thought that there were too many characters and too many storylines on the show. I felt that there wasn't anything going on that would have made me care about what happened to these characters.

Still, once I decided to give the series another chance, it has to be said that I have kinda learned to enjoy 'Game of Thrones'. There are certainly redeeming features in it that have given me a reason to watch it every once in a while.

After all, the series does look good and the production values in it are really high. There's no denying that a lot of actual effort has gone into making sure that the show would look as good and as authentic as possible.

In the end, even though it's probably not as good as some say it is, it's not as bad as I had thought at first. It's certainly better than so many other shows on television that have no potential at all and that are completely awful.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The importance of trusting yourself as an artist.

When it comes to me being a writer, one of the most important things about the craft is that I trust myself. As a writer, I have to be confident and believe in myself when it comes to my abilities and my judgement as an artist.

Especially when it comes to my projects, no matter what happens during them, I have to stay calm and not freak out. I have to stay confident and believe that as long as I keep going, things are going to work out.

The reason that I'm writing about this is that during the last few weeks, I've been spending time on a film project. I've been working on a short film that has managed to take me a bit out of my usual comfort zone as a writer.

In a nutshell, me and my team have been working on short film that is going to be used as an advertisement by a non-profit organization. We have spent time working on a short film that deals with rehabilitation and helping people.

One of the reasons that this project has been so challenging is that on this task I wasn't only the writer of the project. I had to do other things than just to be the guy who comes up with the story and the structure for the script.

After all, on this project I had to be involved with almost every aspect of the filmmaking process. I had to be the co-writer, the co-director, the camera operator, the film editor and the person who makes decisions about the music.

Even though it's certainly true that I have had some experience with shooting, editing and putting videos together, making an actual movie was something new to me. This was something that challenged me and put me on a test as a storyteller.

Still, just because I had to be involved with so many aspects of the movie, that itself hasn't been the hardest part of the process. Me being somewhat inexperienced in producing stuff wasn't the most challenging thing about the project.

In reality, the most challenging part of the movie has had to do with us being on a tight schedule. During the filming, we were on a really tight schedule that didn't allow us much time to plan the film and to come up with a detailed screenplay. 

In practice, what this meant is that whenever we arrived on our shooting locations, we more often than not had to improvise based on the stuff that was available there. We had to rely on our creativity and write the needed 'action' on the spot.

Especially considering that our actor in the movie was only available for two days, we almost always had to be fast with everything. We had no choice except to be as fast as possible, write on the go and try not to screw things up.

So based on all these challenges with the project, one might think that we were bound to be in fairly big trouble with our film. It wouldn't come as surprise if we would have had problems getting things done with the movie.

Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the reality is that even though we did have some minor problems with the production, we managed get lucky most of the time. We managed to get creative and made the best out of the situations that we found ourselves in.

In that sense, now that we are in the post production phase of the movie and are soon ready to show the raw version to our test audience, things look pretty good here. It really looks like we have managed to put together something solid.

After all, even though we didn't get everything exactly the way we wanted, we still managed to get the basics right. We managed to pay attention to the basics and managed to make sure that our story structure worked from start to finish. 

In the end, getting the story to work is probably what is always going to count the most when it comes to making a film that has merit. Coming up a with a solid story structure is what is going to be the most important part in the process. 

After all, even though all those other aspects of filmmaking matter too (acting, directing, cinematography, editing, music etc.), nothing is going to count more than your story. Nothing is going to count more than a script that gives you confidence and direction.

In that sense, when it comes to my team, we can only be grateful that we managed to come up with a solid blueprint for our film. We can only be grateful that we came up with a premise that was strong enough and that we had confidence in what we we're going to do.

After all, had we not come up with a solid story, there's no chance that we would have succeeded with our project. Had we not made the right decisions before we started filming, there's no chance that we would have made a quality short film.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang.

Like millions of others, I have tried to watch the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang as much as possible. Ever since the games started more than two weeks ago, I've tried my best to follow almost every event that has been on.

So far during these fifteen days, I've managed to watch tons of stuff: events like curling, biathlon, cross-country skiing, slalom, half-pipe, nordic combined, ski jumping, speed skating, luge, freestyle and ice-hockey among other events.

Still, when it comes to my very favorite event at PyeonChang, there's one sport that I have preferred watching over the others. Of all the events that I have followed during these games, I have loved watching figure skating the most.

The reason that I have enjoyed watching figure skating so much is that figure skating is not just a sport - it's also an art form. It's an art form that manages to combine skating, spins, step sequences and jumps with music and choreography.

In figure skating, even though winning and competing is obviously important, it's not the only thing that counts. The main reason to watch - at least for many of us in the audience - is not that much about who wins or who places on the podium.

In reality, it's the artistic side of figure skating that draws us to the sport and makes it so popular. It's the jumps, the moves and the music combined with the performer's charisma and personality that matters the most.

Instead of us simply watching the athletes performing and winning or losing, in figure skating we get to forget the 'competition' and enjoy the performances. We get to listen to the music and enjoy their skating programs with our souls.

Compared to the rest of the sports, figure skating is such a fresh exception, because almost every other event is only about winning and being the best. They are only about being the best and getting to the podium to hear the national anthem.

After all, ice hockey for example is all about winning and your team scoring more goals than your opponent's team. It doesn't really have that much of a special 'meaning' or purpose as a game when you think about it.

The same can also be said about a physically demanding sport like cross-country skiing. There's not that much meaning or artistic merit in being faster than the rest of the athletes and reaching the finish line before everyone else.

Still, just because I'm being critical of these other events, I'm obviously not to say that there's anything wrong with watching these other sports. I'm not saying that you're not supposed to or not allowed to enjoy watching them at all.

After all, I myself have watched almost every event during these Olympic games. I have spent countless hours cheering for my countrymen while hoping that they would succeed and win medals in their respective events.

At the same time, it cannot be denied that a sport like figure skating manages to be a bit different. It manages to remind us that there's more to sports than just competing and being best based on points or numbers.

In that sense, as we're reaching the last days of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, we should keep in mind that the Olympics are not supposed to be only about winning. They are not only about who's supposedly the best in the world.

After all, the real purpose of the Olympics is to bring people together from all over the world. These games are supposed to be about uniting us so that we would forget the differences that we supposedly have as human beings. 

In the end, the truth is that who eventually turns out to be the winner in any of these events isn't really that important. It's not that important who manages to win the gold medal in these more than hundred events that they have there.

After all, even though it does feel great to watch your fellow countryman win a gold medal or place on the podium, that's not all there is to it. There are other aspects too that are important and that matter in sports.

In that sense, we should be grateful that a wonderful sport like figure skating exists. We should be grateful, because it's a sport that shows that it's not all about winning and that as an athlete, you don't always have to win in order to be considered a winner.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Why 'inciting incident' matters in storytelling.

When it comes to writing a screenplay, it cannot be overstated how important it is that your story has a good structure. No matter what it's about, your story has to be well structured so that it could keep us entertained from start to finish.

After all, if you manage to come up with the right story beats for your script, your story as a whole is likely going to work. Your script is going to have the ingredients that are needed to keep your audience interested in what's going on.

Still, when it comes to these 'story beats' that have to do with structure, one of these beats is probably more important than the others. Of all the story beats, the 'inciting incident' is the most important one when it comes to writing a solid screenplay.

In a nutshell, the inciting incident is the catalyst in the script that sets things in motion in your script. This story beat happens when your main protagonist makes the decision - early on in the script - that leads to him beginning his adventure.

For example, in James Bond movies, the inciting incident happens when our secret agent - after the pre-title sequence -  gets his mission briefing. He is sent on a mission and is expected to either fix things or to find out what's going on.

Among other things, Bond might try to find a lost nuclear submarine tracking system, figure out what happened to a missing space rocket, find out more about a mysterious microchip or find out why his fellow agent died with a Faberge egg in his hand.

The reason that catalysts like these are so important, is that without them, there would be no story to tell. If there were no moment in the story that would push the main character to a new direction in the script, there would be no story to follow.

After all, would 'M' not give 007 a briefing that would send our agent on a mission, all he would do is sip those vodka martinis and sleep with pretty ladies. He wouldn't be trying to prevent the crazy bad guy from taking over the planet.

Still, when it comes to these catalysts, just because Bond franchise uses these simple - yet effective - storytelling tricks, that doesn't mean that it's the only way to go. I'm not saying that there's only one way to do it and that you shouldn't try something else.

In reality, your inciting incident and story catalyst will always depend on what your story and your characters are going to be about. They will depend on the genre of the movie and the goals that your characters are going to have.

In high concept movies for example, it's likely that you'll need only that one single catalyst for your script. In these films you'll likely get your catalyst from that major event that affects your protagonist and the rest of the characters.

In some other films though, it might be that the story has multiple - internal or external - moments that will push your character into his journey. Especially with smaller films that rely on character development, this tends to happen more.

Still, when it all is said and done, regardless of the genre and your story, you shouldn't forget that you always need that inciting incident in your story. It's absolutely crucial that your script has that catalyst that pushes your character in to the right direction.

After all, if you manage to come up with one that is solid, there's a good chance that your script is going to work. If you're willing to work hard and come up with solid story beats throughout your script, you have a chance of creating a good story.

On the other hand, the truth is that if you don't manage to come up with a good inciting incident for your script, your screenplay won't work. There's no chance that you'll be able to create something that is going to keep the audience entertained.

In theses cases, instead of creating something solid, you'll come up with a script that won't have any value. Instead of writing a story that keeps us entertained and happy, you'll create a script that nobody wants to read and that nobody is going to want to produce.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Is 'Up' Pixar's worst animated film?

When it comes to animated films, it's not exactly a secret that I prefer watching animations over live action films. I prefer watching animations because watching them puts me on a better mood and makes me feel better about life in general.

Especially when it comes to films made by Pixar studios, I have almost always enjoyed their animations. Whether we're talking about Ratatouille, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles or Wall-E, I have found their films to be well made and entertaining.

Still, that doesn't mean that Pixar has always managed to entertain me and make me happy. Especially when it comes to their animation 'Up', I have found the film to be really disappointing and lacking when it comes to its overall quality.

The biggest reason that I haven't been able to enjoy 'Up', is that unlike in almost every other Pixar film, the story in this film is entirely too inconsistent. There are too many problems with the story and how it's put together.

Probably the biggest problem with the film is that its main story is told during its first twelve minutes. After the first part - that includes the main character being a child, growing up, getting married, getting old and losing his wife - the movie runs out of story.

Yet, instead of this 'short film' about Carl and his wife Ellie wrapping itself after those solid twelve minutes, the film goes on for another seventy-five minutes. The movie goes on, even though there's basically no story left to tell and nothing for the characters to do.

What is especially awful about this extended part of the movie is that it forgets what the first part was about. During the second part of the movie, the 'laws' of the first part's universe get thrown out and the animation becomes more or less a different film.

For example, in the second part of the film, the story 'restarts' when our main character Carl decides to fly away with his house that has thousands of helium filled balloons tied to it. He flies away after he receives a court order to move into a retirement home.

This 'balloon house' itself might not be too much to swallow - but when you add things like a 110 year old villain and talking dogs that fly airplanes into the mix, the story falls apart. The movie just gets completely ridiculous and implausible.

Especially when it comes to us getting introduced to those talking dogs in South America, the complete lack of direction and continuity in the film becomes obvious. You can't help but to shake your head in disbelief when this happens.

What is really unfortunate about all these problems with the story is that when you consider all those other aspects of the film, there aren't really any problems here. Everything else except the story is really well made in 'Up'.

After all, it's obvious that the director of the film, the animation department, the voice actors, the composer and the rest of the crew worked really hard on the movie. They did everything they could to make film as good as it could only be.

Still, when it comes to the film as a whole, the story in 'Up' does not work well enough. There are too many problems with the screenplay that cannot be overlooked and be forgiven just because this happens to be a Pixar film.

In that sense, when you think of 'Up' as a movie and compare it to those other animations that the studio has produced, it's pretty clear that 'Up' is not one of their best films. This Pixar film is not even close to being one of their better animations.

After all, even though the production values in the movie are very high, that's not good enough. It's not enough to come up with an 'interesting' premise and think that one good idea is all that it takes to write a great screenplay.

On the contrary, it takes a lot more than a good idea for a short film to turn it into a full length movie. It takes a lot more work and effort to be able to come up with characters and storylines that make sense from start finish.

In that sense, it's unfortunate that the writers weren't able to come up with good stuff here. They weren't able come up with a screenplay that had the potential to entertain and to keep us happy throughout the movie.

As unfortunate as it is, instead of paying attention to the basics, they gave up and took the easy way out. They took the easy way out and settled with ideas that didn't make sense and that didn't have enough potential to turn into a great story.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I've enjoyed watching 'Hunting Hitler'.

Over the last couple of years, I have tried to become more informed and more aware of things that have happened in our past. I have tried to learn more about world history and things that happened before I was born. 

Especially when it comes to the second World War and the Nazis, I felt that I didn't know enough. I felt that I had to learn more about these events, so that I could feel more comfortable discussing history and the 'Third Reich' with others.

So when it comes to me getting more informed, over the last year there has been one source of information that has inspired me more than the others. History Channel's 'Hunting Hitler' is the series that has made me study WW2 and the Nazis the most.

In a nutshell, the premise of 'Hunting Hitler' is whether Adolf Hitler could have survived the war. Is there evidence that Hitler escaped from Berlin during the last days of the war and that he could have fled from his capturers?

What makes this premise so interesting is that even though there's strong evidence that Hitler died in his bunker, there's no irrefutable proof. In theory it's possible that he could have escaped and made it out alive during the final days of the war.

The series follows leads that suggest that it would have been possible for Hitler to flee undetected. It follows leads like the recently discovered tunnel systems in the underground Berlin that we hadn't been fully aware of before. 

The theory of Hitler fleeing the country is also at least somewhat plausible based on a crucial eyewitness testimony. His pilot swore during the Nuremberg trials that he managed to fly Hitler out of Germany during the last days of April in 1945. 

When it comes to where he might have escaped, it's obvious that had 'Der F├╝hrer' escaped from his bunker before the fall of the 'Third Reich', he couldn't have stayed in Germany. He would have had to flee his country and leave Europe.

The series theorizes that like so many other high ranking Nazis, Hitler could have escaped to Argentina after the war. This is where he could have found his safe haven without being in constant fear of being caught by the allied forces.

In order to find out more, the series sends its investigators to South America and starts looking for clues for Nazi activities post World War Two. They search for any clues that might give us new information about Hitler's postwar whereabouts.

During the first season of the series, it becomes clear that even though the Nazis were defeated in Europe, their ideology wasn't. Especially in Argentina and Chile it's evident that the military juntas sympathized with the nazis and provided them protection.

What makes these 'revelations' on the show so fascinating is that for the first time we're shown places where Hitler could have either resided or was spotted. No stone is left unturned when it comes to his possible locations and hideouts.

We're shown places like the city of Bariloche where there have been sightings of Hitler with his wife Eva Braun. This is the place where Hitler allegedly was hiding before he allegedly settled at his lake side farm in Inalco, Argentina.

We also visit places like Teyu Cuare Park, the nazi jungle hideout and the infamous Colonia Dignidad in Chile. This was the Nazi colony where Josef Mengele, the notorious doctor from Auschwitz allegedly continued his experiments on humans.

Especially when it comes to the recently discovered Nazi fortress at Teyu Cuare Park, it can't be denied how fascinating the ruins of the place are. Hitler's followers clearly spent a lot of effort preparing for the worst in case they would lose the war.

As the series progresses and we get past season one, 'Hunting Hitler' tends to concentrate a bit less on Adolf Hitler specifically. Instead of being all about Hitler's fate, it spends more time on other Nazi activities after the world war 2 and their secret networks.

Among other things, there's fascinating stuff like the Nazis running a nuclear program in Argentina (season 2), the search for Hitler's number two man Martin Bormann in Paraguay, and the infamous Nazi ratlines in Europe that were used after the war (season 3).

Especially when it comes to its current season and the escape routes that Nazis like Adolf Eichmann used, I found the stuff to be really interesting. It's incredible how organizations like the international Red Cross and the Vatican were helping Nazis after the war.

In that sense, when it comes to judging this ongoing series as a whole, even though the series clearly is speculative, there's a lot of good stuff going on in here. There's something for almost everyone who's interested in history and how things might have happened.

Even though it's admittedly true that a lot of the things on the show are indeed conjecture and speculation, that's not all there is to it. One shouldn't concentrate only on Hitler's unlikely escape and disregard every other aspect on the show.

Especially considering that most documentaries don't challenge you in any way, 'Hunting Hitler' is a clear exception. This one actually makes you fact check for yourself whether certain claims are plausible and whether they make sense.

So in the end, even though Hitler almost certainly did die in his bunker on April 30th in 1945, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't raise questions about this moment in history. We shouldn't eat up every claim that the mainstream historians are making.

After all, even though mainstream historians usually get things right, that's not always the case. There have been too many important historical events and cases over the years that they have gotten completely wrong.

In that sense, even if you don't subscribe to 'Hunting Hitler's' premise, you should still give the show a chance. You should give it a chance because the series does make you question things and because it doesn't take everything about our history for granted.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The most important standards in writing.

When it comes to writing, one of the most important things about the craft has to do with standards. As a writer, you should always make sure that your standards are high and that you're committed to following them.

After all, the more you demand from yourself, the more likely it is that you'll be able come up with quality stuff. The higher your requirements for yourself are, the more likely it becomes that you'll be able to be write good material.

So below I managed to come up with standards that probably count the most when it comes to writing. These are the requirements that are the most important when it comes to creating quality stuff that has a chance of keeping people entertained.

1) You need to really care about writing as a craft.

If talent is the most important part of being a writer, very likely the second most important part has to do with being motivated. You have to be someone who cares about the craft and who doesn't give up no matter what.

After all, writing isn't about being instantly perfect or about getting things work right away. It's a demanding craft in which you have to be patient and resilient, no matter who you are and no matter how good you are as a writer.

In my case, as a relatively talented writer, whenever I'm writing anything, as long as there's any chance that I'm going to succeed with my task, I'll keep going. I won't give up and will keep pushing until I get the job done.

2) Trust yourself and your judgement about what's good and what's not.

It cannot be stressed how important it is that you trust yourself and your judgement. It's your job as a writer to figure out what are the good - and the not so good  - writers, television shows, movies, directors etc. in the business.

Just because others are saying that something or someone is really 'good' or 'bad' doesn't make it so. It's your job to figure out whether a movie or a television show has value or whether it as a whole is overrated.

In my case, it's almost impossible for me to watch most of the stuff that is out there. Most of the television shows and movies are horrible, even though most of the critics say that just about every movie or a tv show is totally awesome.

3) Be informed / know what you're writing about.

In many cases, you should strive to know as much as possible about the society that we live in. Whether we're talking about movies, sports, art, politics, history or anything else, it's always a good thing to be informed.

After all, the more you know about these topics, the easier it is to write about things that people care about. The more informed you are about life in general, the easier it becomes to write screenplays or articles that people can relate to.

In my case, I try to be a curious person and knowledgeable about all kinds of topics that range from politics to history to sports. I try to make sure that I know enough about the things that I'm writing about, so that I wouldn't be caught making up stuff.

4) Learn the correct storytelling structure / formula.

If there's one thing that every single writer should learn about the craft. it's the standard storytelling structure. This 'Blake Snyder' beat sheet is the storytelling 'formula' that almost every single well told movie follows.

In short, there's absolutely no downside to being aware of how the basic story structure works. Knowing how most of the movie screenplays are constructed helps you as a writer, even if you wouldn't write movie scripts yourself.

In my case, it took years before I finally understood the story structure and was able to transition to movies. It took a lot of failed attempts before I came up with a solid story idea that had potential to turn into a full length movie screenplay.
5) Standardize your writing / rewriting process.

When it comes to writing and rewriting your material, it cannot be emphasized enough how important these processes are. Especially when it comes to rewriting, you have to be aware of how important this part happens to be.

By that I mean that if you're not willing to spend enough time rewriting your scripts, there's almost no chance that your scripts are going to work. It's absolutely crucial that you are willing to rewrite your own stuff over and over again.

In my case for example, I will always reserve at least two days for every article that I write. I will never publish anything during the first day, because I've learned the hard way that it's impossible to get everything to work right away.

6) Learn from your mistakes / continuous improvement.

Finally, when it comes to getting better as writer, one of the best ways to improve is to look back and read your older stuff. There's almost no better way to improve than learning from your earlier mistakes and errors that you have made as a writer.

After all, even though it might not be easy to look at your earlier writings, checking your older material really helps. Especially when it comes to writing articles, you'll see how much your craft has developed over the years.

At least in my case, I've learned to spend much more time writing these articles over the last few years. I've learned that writing quality posts takes a lot more time and effort than I had thought at first and that I should never take them for granted.