Thursday, July 31, 2014

It can be a good thing to have mental health problems.

One of the most depressing things about today's so called television entertainment is the almost complete lack of empathy on almost every channel out there. When you take a look at all those different shows, it's pretty obvious that those people that produce these shows don't have much empathy for you as a viewer.

As unfortunate as it is, there are just too many examples (shows and their writers) where you can almost immediately say that this and that person does not care. No decent person would put out that crap for the audiences to see.

But why is this so? Is it because the television industry is so tough, so stressing and so demanding. Because, I mean, certainly I've heard that explanation before. "You should try it yourself, you wouldn't last for a day". In my opinion in most cases this is just a really weak excuse.

I know that it's very difficult to come up with quality concepts. It's not easy to come up with a comedy series that actually works. It's not easy to create a drama series that manages to captivate the audience. Neither is it easy to create a reality show that is both uplifting and real. 

There are so many television channels today that it's admittedly impossible to fill them all with quality shows. You're bound to have a lot of shows that are a bit questionable when it comes to their quality. I do understand that.

Nevertheless, I think we still have to draw the line somewhere. The unfortunate truth is that there are just too many bad shows that for no reason at all treat you - as a viewer - as someone who has no value. You're not important. You're not precious.  Too many shows are cold, cruel and even sociopathic.

I think one of the biggest reasons for this is that there are too many people that write these different shows who just don't understand what it means to be a human. They don't understand that they have responsibilities that are bigger than just keeping their shows on air.

They don't understand what pain means. Instead of serving others and not wanting others to be in pain, usually all they want to do is to take the easy way out. These people are lazy, superficial, vain, ignorant and hollow inside. They don't care.

The biggest reason that I myself became a writer, is because - at least in my opinion - I care about people. I want to do what's right and what's good for others. I think I understand at least to a certain extent what it means to be in pain. I have a clue what depression, anxiety and ocd can do to you.

The requirement for being a talented writer, I believe, is that you know as much as possible about how the human mind works. Having problems yourself is a good way to learn empathy.  It won't guarantee that you'll become a great writer but it's nevertheless a pretty good start.

In any case, we need writers who have empathy for people like you and me. Because in all honesty, we need to become better human beings.  Without compassion it's just never going to happen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Some reasons for getting rejected.

So this is one of those of painful topics that very few of us want to talk about. How do you react when your work - screenplay or whatever that is - gets rejected? Do you get mad or do you give up? How do you cope with it and do you ask why it happened?

There are actually a lot of pretty good guides out there if one wants to know how to cope with rejection. The advice is pretty basic but it's definitely helpful. It ranges from not blaming yourself to talking to your friends etc.

Nevertheless, even though we have to come up with coping mechanisms that allow us to move on, as human beings we should be curious enough to know what exactly went wrong and why.  In my opinion it's not enough to just move on. 

One of the things that I myself have learned about rejections is that I have learned to pay  more attention to the quality of my product.  I take another look at what I managed to do, if there were mistakes and how big of a difference those mistakes made.

With just about every script I have noticed that, yes, I  really did make mistakes. Some of them were bigger, some of them were smaller. Some of them really made the difference and objectively speaking probably ruined my chances. 

In any case, noticing that you make mistakes is a good thing and it should bring you relief. It gives you a rational explanation to why things went wrong and why you were rejected. It was your fault - that's awesome. Next time you can do better. You have a reason.

But it isn't always that simple. Even if you happen to make mistakes, it doesn't mean that it was the reason why you got rejected. It's possible that your product nevertheless, overall, was good enough. So there can be other reasons too.

Speaking from my own experience (writing specs & competitions) and how much I've learned about how people in the business think, I think I can say pretty safely say that quality doesn't always matter. As shocking as it sounds, not all people care enough.

As unfortunate as it is, everyone has biases. There are of course exceptions, but too many people out there simply don't have what it takes to say what's good and what's not. Too many in charge can't tell what's right and what's wrong - or they just don't give a damn.

That's what makes the whole thing so difficult and depressing.  Make mistakes as a writer that are too big and you get rejected. Don't make mistakes, do things too well and you might get rejected too. That's something that's not easy to accept at all.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

24: Live Another Day - some issues I had with it.

SPOILERS: If you haven't seen the season yet, DO NOT read this.

So anyway, even though I did like 24: Live Another Day: There were certain problems I had with this new mini-season. In my opinion most of these problems could probably have been avoided had the writing been slightly better.

The first big problem I had - and many others had a problem with it too - was when President Heller survived the attack that he was supposed to have died in. This really didn't make much sense. It felt gimmicky and convoluted. 

Before that the audience had seen stuff that was totally entertaining. Jack and co. being chased by drones in the middle of London was easily the the best thing that we saw on tv this season. It wasn't even close in my opinion - this was gold.

I really liked the drone strikes storyline this season. There was a clear moral dilemma. If the terrorists can hijack a drone, don't they have every right to use them as well? After all, there's no honor in using drones as weapons.

Why President Heller surviving didn't work was because everything leading up to this moment had not only been entertaining but also - if not completely believable - at least relatively plausible.  The subject matter was relevant and the character development was pretty good too.

Margot Al-Harazi was a pretty interesting villain and her terms for stopping the attacks were pretty fair too. Just give the president of the United States who ordered the killing of her husband and she would let go off the drones. 

I found it very disappointing when the audience didn't get what it "wanted". Since it was revealed that President Heller suffered from Alzheimer's disease, sacrificing himself in order to save thousands didn't seem like a bad idea. Too bad this cathartic moment never happened.  

Nevertheless, things got worse this season when Mark Boudreau,  the White House Chief of Staff decided to sell out Bauer for the Russians - again. I didn't like this turn of events at all. Even though he started as the token bad guy, the audience started to like him as the episodes went on.

That he acted like a total coward didn't really make sense.  It's as if the writers forgot his character arc and decided to cop out. Clearly there were other options available that would have served the story better than how things eventually went.

There were some other obvious problems too. Benjamin Bratt's character turning out to be the villain didn't seem right. The token 'mole' in the headquarters had been played out so the writers probably shouldn't have taken that route.

I also didn't like how everything was so connected. That Michael Wincott's 'resistance' character was connected to the Chinese and how the Russians were connected to everyone - including being able to get information about that forged signature in the White House.

Of course probably the worst part of this season was Audrey's death. Not that I really cared about her character - or anyone else did for that matter - but her death was pretty much straight out of a Monty Python comedy. How can you fail at securing that place - twice in a row?

Other than that I am not someone who necessarily wishes to see happy endings all the time. Nevertheless, the ending of Live Another Day was just too depressing even for me. It wasn't really derived from what had happened during this season.

A lot more than that it was a compilation of what had already happened during the earlier seasons - awful things happening to everyone. In all honesty they should have given at least Boudreau some kind of a happy ending. After all, he did lose his wife too.

Since it turned out that Jack turned himself over to the Russians, the story obviously isn't finished yet. This of course means that we're almost certainly going to get another season of 24 at some point in the future.

In the end, this season had a lot of great things going for it. Unfortunately the last third of the series turned out to be pretty disappointing. Hopefully the final upcoming season will set things right for Jack. That might not happen, but I guess you never know. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

How to motivate yourself to write: get mad or get really depressed.

I think it was Hemingway who said that he doesn't like writing, but he likes having written. I don't necessarily like writing that much either. Writing isn't always easy - sometimes it's really hard. 

Having said that, in my opinion writing, even bad writing usually beats not writing at all. As much as it pisses me off when I can't seem to be able to put together coherent sentences, not writing many times feels perhaps worse.

But in order to be able to write something, you need ideas. For me personally, it's not that easy to get them. Nothing happens when I don't have a clue what to write about. I'd like to write about something, but the ideas, they just don't keep coming.

It helps to have a certain writing routine that you try to stick to most of the time. It also helps when you have goals that you try to reach. These are the things that give us a feeling of having control over the process.

That is the rational approach to writing. Planning, thinking about writing, being analytical about the whole process. Thinking that we can decide what to write about and when to write. Thinking that we're in charge.

In reality though, we can't always decide when and where to get ideas from. That's not how our minds work. Our ability to control it is much more limited than we are willing to admit to ourselves. That is because our emotions play a big part too.

In my case I can safely say that I tend to get ideas and I'm actually motivated to write when I'm feeling mad over something that has happened in my life. I have the need to vent and I have to get rid of my frustrations. This seems to work rather well.

What also gets me started writing  is when I feel depressed and life becomes pretty unbearable. This forces me to do something - and writing helps, because it makes me concentrate on things other than my problems. 

If I don't feel bad enough or if I don't feel angry enough, it's usually hard to get anything done. There are exceptions too: sometimes I do like writing and sometimes I'm even excited to start writing, but those days are few and far between. I just don't get ideas.

In any case, when it comes to writing it usually doesn't hurt when you're hurt. Most of the time the worse you feel, the better you write. If you're mad or depressed, there's a decent chance that something good is about to happen.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hilarious stand up by Michael Mcintyre.

There are very few current stand up comedians out there that manage to be funny. One of them is Michael Mcintyre, who I suppose is not well known in the United States. After all, he's not American - he happens to be a Brit.

Now, I admit that Mcintyre's stand up routine is not that daring and it won't necessarily challenge anyone to think. Jokes about the Queen aren't by default that edgy. Neither are the bits for example about England's football team to be honest.

Nevertheless, even though he's not a social commentator like Bill Hicks, that shouldn't stop us from taking a look at those things that he manages to get right. Because in my opinion he's a very talented performer who knows how to keep you entertained.

One of the good things about Mcintyre is that his style of comedy isn't that much about telling jokes. Instead his stand up routine is based on making observations that happen to be funny. They're funny because they're true.

I think he's also pretty good at telling a story. He's also good at doing physical comedy. The way he walks, the way he "dances" and the way he imitates with his moves. His facial expressions are hilarious too and he's also good at doing voice impersonations.

He's also funny because he makes fun of himself constantly. What is especially good is that despite mocking himself he manages to keep the tone upbeat and cheerful. It doesn't distract in any way, it doesn't feel out of place.

He also seems to have a really good grasp of the popular culture. For example in the clip above is the hilarious "I'm going to Hogwarts" moment derived from the Harry Potter series. The bow shooting from Lord of The Rings was great too.

Little things like these make you feel like you can trust the performer. He knows things that you know and manages to  integrate these references into his acts. (I especially recommend Mcintyre's playstation bit from his "World Cup" video).

In any case, it not easy to be a good stand up comedian. It takes so much work to perfect an act like this. There's no way I myself would ever be able to do something like this. Like no way...

But Michael Mcintyre does and the way he performs makes me feel happier about life. I hope this guy keeps going because there can never be enough laughter on this planet.