Thursday, November 29, 2012
Yahtzee pans ASSASSINS CREED 3 pretty hard
on the grounds of being boring. His main beef is the lack of stabbing people, which after ought to be the core mechanic of a game about being an assassin. In the first eight hours I played, there was a tedious lot of running around in the snow, and agreed, not so much with the stabbing people by surprise.
I have a few other beefs. AC has always made the decision that it should be incredibly hard for guards to kill the hero. Since he's an uber assassin I suppose that could be justified, but you can literally stop controlling him and have him stand there for ten seconds before he finally gets killed by the five guys surrounding him. I saw him shrug off a firing squad of nine guys firing muskets at about twenty feet. Even Batman in ARKHAM can't take more than a few direct hits before he goes down. The point is that, as Batman, you can make him very hard to hit, and in return, he hits very hard.
It seems to me a stealth game (and if AC is not a stealth franchise, what is it?) ought to punish charging into a squad of armed soldiers. However, whilst trying to pickpocket a redcoat, I alerted the squad. So naturally, not wanting to go back to a checkpoint (there are very few checkpoints and no way to save a game anywhere else as far as I know), I killed all nine of the soldiers.
By contrast, DISHONORED, Corvo Attano can't take more than a few hits with a sword, or even one hit with a pistol, before he's gone to save-game-land. That seems about right. The point is Corvo is incredibly stealthy and the mooks won't see him at all if you're careful.
But I have another beef, and that's that the storytelling is weak. In the early sequences, an English gent named Haytham is trying to find an Old Ones site that the Mohawks know about. So he spends an awful lot of time rescuing various members of his team and then helping the Indians fight off General Braddock... to the point where it's very easy to forget why he's doing all this and you wonder why you're getting involved in local politics when, theoretically, you are an Assassin fighting against the Templars for control of ancient futuristic technology. I felt the same way during RED DEAD when our hero spent days or weeks helping the Mexican government slaughter rebels, and then helped the Mexican rebels slaughter government dudes, all because he wanted someone to tell him where some old enemies were hiding.
At a certain point you're like the old man who still flirts with waitresses but can't remember why. It's not a good idea if your plot gets too far removed from your hero's crucial, live-or-die objective.
And also, as in RED DEAD, I started wondering how this guy could slaughter so many redcoats who were not his enemy. In AC II, you did not have to kill anyone who didn't have it coming. Sometimes you did, sure, but that was on you for not being stealthy enough. In AC III, you have to lay waste to the British Army to complete the missions.
The characters are weak, too. This is a game with yards of cut-scenes. But none of them develop the main character. At least, they didn't develop Haytham while he was the main character. Characters are defined by their flaws. A character without flaws is boring. Haytham is boring. So is his eventual Mohawk wife, Kaniehtí:io; fortunately for her, she's voiced and (I guess) mocapped by Kaniehtiio Horn, who manages to radiate star quality even when she's computer-generated.
Let's say this again. A character needs to have flaws. Their objective must be personal. Even if it is political, it must be made personal. Haytham wants an artifact because he's an Assassin. But why does he care? Why is that important? What does it mean to him?
AC3 is a spectacular game; but that only highlights its flaws. I really want to like this game. But it has no core. No core mechanic, no core story. Such a damn shame.
A few days ago I got invited to an info session on the new Cinecoup program
. It's intended to be a sort of incubator / gamified competition for $1,000,000 in production financing.
Jason Joly comes out of the hi-tech world of incubators and accelerators -- companies that help entrepreneurs get their act together. Although he's spent time in show business, he talks more like someone from the game world. He talks about analytics and metrics and social media.
And he's got a million dollars to make your movie, and guaranteed distribution. Distribution is the Achilles heel of the already not over-mighty Canadian film industry. Most English Canadian movies get released for a week or two on a few screens and then head straight to DVD, with a few (government-mandated) appearances on TV. Joly has a solution for that.
His idea is to get a hundred filmmakers to submit two minute trailers for their film idea. Through the magic of the Internet, potential viewers will vote on the trailers. Winning filmmaking teams movie through stages of writing scripts and refining their ideas until ten projects are optioned. Then one winning project gets a million bucks and a distribution deal.
The winning project has, at this point, got a lot of support from people who want to see the movie. Joly has the metrics that tell him where these people are. So he can then go to exhibitors, and say, hey, fifty thousand people in Winnipeg want to see this movie, and I have all their eddresses. The exhibitor can now show the movie knowing he already has an audience for it.
Then, as word of mouth spreads, the release can go wide.
Back in ancient days (1974), there was a dog movie called BENJI. Nobody wanted to finance it. Once it was made, nobody wanted to show it. The producer-director rented theaters and showed it. Word of mouth began to spread. He started taking out ads telling people in a city that if they wanted to see BENJI, they should bug their local theater. BENJI started to roam around the country.
BENJI went on to gross $35 million on a budget of oh, say, two million. Equivalent to about $175 million now.
So I am excited by the idea of using Internet metrics to match up clusters of interested audience members with local theaters. Your local theater doesn't have anything against EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL or PEEPERS in principal. A ticket is a ticket. They object to the lack of marketing. They don't know if anyone will come in to see EDDIE. With TRANSFORMERS 2, they know some people will come in the door.
There are a few issues with Joly's model. You don't start with a script or a concept. You start with a trailer.
There are certain kinds of movies you can go out and shoot a teaser trailer for with no money and no time. Joly mentioned HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN and PARANORMAL. Neither of these depends on acting or cinematography. If you have a 5D and some friends, you can go out and shoot a trailer for something like HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN this weekend.
If you wanted to make something like AWAY FROM HER, it would be harder. That kind of movie is all about the acting. (Most of what I write is all about the acting.) You would need to have some really amazing actors as friends, or go through a casting process and hire actors. You would need to rehearse them.
And some movies don't "tease" well. There are movies where one scene can't show what's good about the movie. There are already plenty of great movies where trailer cutters struggle to convey in two minutes what works in a hundred minutes. And they have an entire movie to choose moments from.
On the other hand, it's perfectly fair to design a program that favors high-concept low budget movies over execution-dependent movies. It's probably easier to market HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN on no money than it is to market AWAY FROM HER.
If you're a professional, a two minute trailer is probably something that eats two to four weeks of your professional life. That's a lot of resources to put into a 1 out of 100 shot at distribution. If I make a short, I have something I can submit to festivals and build my reel. A two minute trailer -- especially if it's not as good as, or better than, the movie I want to make -- isn't really something I have another use for.
If you're successful with your trailer, the program expects you to write the script for nothing, and then offers to option it for two years for $2500. That's a long time to tie up your best idea, considering you only have a one-in-ten shot of it getting made; and if it's not your best idea, then why are you wasting your time on this program? You should be working on your best idea.
So this program favors people who have some spare time on their hands.
Also fair, by the way. There are already plenty of programs for pro filmmakers. You can't even apply to Telefilm's Independent stream unless you have two shorts that have been to specific festivals, or some produced longer form credits.
Another issue is the social media aspect. If you know any filmmakers, then your Facebook feed is filled with friends who want you to like their stuff on various sites to help them get it made. So to make it to the top of the Cinecoup pyramid, you either need to be a genius at social media, or you need to find a genius at social media for your team.
Maybe that is the future, and we will all have to partner up with social media folks. But right now, some of my filmmaker friends are really good at pestering their Twitter feed and their fan base and their Facebook feed, and some perfectly good filmmakers I know don't have a Twitter feed, 'cause they're too busy making films.
So, as I asked Joly in the meeting: will the Cinecoup competition have a large enough audience base that votes from the actual audience swamp any one filmmaker's buddies? Otherwise it's not a filmmaking contest, it's a personal popularity contest.
(Filmmakers probably will have to team up with marketing people in the future, as filmmaking becomes more individual and entrepreneurial. According to Ernesto Sirolli on his TEDx talk
, every successful entreprise needs a creator
, a marketer
, and someone to look after the money
. Right now marketing is an afterthought -- filmmakers depend on their distributor to market their picture after they've sold it. But you can't do that with a web series that you never actually "sell." And you really can't even do it on a low budget movie: the distrib just isn't going to put that much into it. On a million dollar budget, you can't afford to take out ads in papers. But with digital distribution technology, there's no reason why a million dollar Canadian, or American, or South African movie can't find an audience across the globe -- if you team up with someone who's savvy at promoting it internationally on the Internet.
(Unless, say, it's about hockey. Hard to sell hockey globally.)
I have no idea if Cinecoup will be successful. I admire Joly's effort to disrupt the current paradigm. Anything that gets the filmmakers and the audience closer is a good thing. Anything that "disintermediates" opens the door for certain kinds of projects that won't get made if Telefilm and SODEC analysts have anything to say about it, which they do. At the same time, there are movies that need a couple of decision makers to make a gut check -- you can't really sell them until they've been made. There's room for both kinds of movies and room for both kinds of distribution paradigms.
It will be interesting to see what Joly and Cinecoup come up with.
UPDATE: Markuze has his own issues with this program
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I am hardly the authority on accessorizing, but a Faithful Reader wrote in to ask me what the best bag is for a screenwriter.
Personally, I'm fond of the Swiss Army Bags. They're lightweight and strong. If I'm going out with my iPad, I have an iPad bag for it. If I'm taking my MacBook Pro, then I use my Swiss Army computer bag.
Both Swiss Army bags do have an awful lot of pockets, and, I suppose, would be a tad lighter without them. But ballistic nylon is going to be much lighter than almost anything you might put into such a thing.
Lisa has just a padded sleeve for her laptop, with a shoulder strap. That's not so flexible, though. If someone hands you a script, or you have to bring your bike helmet with you (because you took a Bixi bike), there's no room.
I think if I were more of a hipster, I'd want this snappy, iconic, jet set bag:
What's your favorite bag, baby?
Thursday, November 22, 2012
: Could you talk about the ALIEN franchise? How
has that developed?
: Not that well. The second was brilliant.
I think James Cameron is on the level of Steven Spielberg as a director. He did
a smart thing. He didn't try to compete with the first. He concentrated more on
action. Brought the little girl in. It was the perfect complement to our film.
The exoskeleton and the queen being larger than any of the other aliens. That
was a superb evolution.
From there, some very bad things happen. The critics and the
box office prove it. 3 and 4 were quite failed, flawed movies. Audiences didn't
The one later sequel that did work was the first ALIENS VS.
PREDATOR. It had a great inspiration based on comic books. It was like "Frankenstein
meets the Wolf Man," two unbeatable creatures fighting. It grossed over
$200M and was not extremely expensive.
Unfortunately, they didn't refresh the franchise on the
second AVP. Just too many repetitive elements from one AVP to the other. I’m just
happy that I got a shared story credit on only the first one in 2004.
: Which brings us to PROMETHEUS.
: I read the script for that, and I thought,
it's got a lot of great scenes, but the ending is gonna undo it. There are some
things you can't follow. Why would they destroy a race they created?
: Why would an advanced race of super-powerful
aliens need to destroy humanity by dropping aliens on us? Why not nuke us from
orbit? It sort of felt to me like a classic visual director's movie: one scene that's cool after another, but
nothing holding it all together.
: Some directors, when God gave their visual
talent, maybe He did something to impede their story talent.
: What themes bind your work together?
: If I had to choose one thing to bind my work
together, it would be: I want to amaze
the world. I don't want to make a movie that is something they've seen before
in any other movie. I'm a writer and a producer, and those two always fight
each other. The showman in me cares less about the story working great than the
audience going bananas. Usually the showman wins, but I'm working with partners
who excel at character, and they keep me on track.
: How has the environment changed since you
: Those that make the decisions on big budget
films seem less interested in original material, more inclined to lean heavier
than ever on sequels and remakes. But
still we see from time to time hugely creative original material that does get
made successively. That gives me and
others I know the courage to continue and go for highly imaginative ideas.
I heard Dick Zanuck say seven years ago, you can't figure
out what a good script is. Intelligence and craftsmanship count, but the only
way you really know is gut instinct. Your brain can talk you out of some of
your best ideas. And he was in both eras, at Fox under his father, and then at
Warners. He did JAWS and THE STING.
Was TOTAL RECALL too complicated? Financiers said it
wouldn't work. They felt the action
audience will be annoyed by the convoluted story structure. They'll find it too
cerebral. For eight years, everyone said "6 people will come and see
it". Arnold wanted to do it, but he couldn't do it until he became number
one at the box office. And people thought ALIEN would not get made—it was too
These days it takes a major name to do something original.
Joss Whedon's AVENGERS did a billion seven hundred thousand because they let
him do it the way he wanted. Cameron, Spielberg, Christopher Nolan—they have the
clout to do the outrageously imaginative. No one wanted to do INCEPTION, but
"How can we turn down the guy who made a billion on BATMAN?" I was
thrilled when the executives said in an interview, "We wouldn't have done
it if it wasn't Christopher Nolan." That took a lot of character to admit.
I can't go by logic. I have to trust my own instincts. Do I
like it myself? It's that simple.
That's why I'm having difficulty now. The business people
are trying to go by logic. To sell a script, you have to do things that the
buyers don't think are too crazy. But the things that do the best, if they're
done well, are the things that are too crazy.
: How long does it usually take you to write a
: If my writing partner and I get the third
act in a timely manner, it takes a year and a half. It's a different timetable
when you're a writer for hire. I never have trouble coming in on time. We can
always write it timely. Usually you have 12 weeks plus rewrites. But if I
really want to write something wonderful, it usually takes a year and a half.
TOTAL RECALL was the stunning exception – 3 years to come up
with a payoff. We didn't have "Mars gets air" for three years. And
only then was the movie of a piece, was of a whole. AFI ran an article: why can't Shusett and O’Bannon get their
Total Recall screenplay made? Because they can't come up with a third act. But
finally we did, got it made and it was a big success creatively and
financially. I was really gratified to find that later USC had a whole history
of how we couldn't get a third act, and finally did and delivered a hit. The evolution of that script was the film
school’s example to writers how you can struggle, but persevere.
That's why I've never been an enthusiast about writing TV.
I've written three pilots. But I can't be comfortable with the limitations of
TV timing. An idea could come in an hour or a month. Or a year. And then you
think, "How did I not think of this idea five months ago?" They come
when they're ready.
: Dan O'Bannon had been working on ALIEN for a
year and a half before you met him, and he was on page 29, right?
: He couldn't figure out how to get the alien
on the spaceship in a way that no one had done before. He didn't want them to
just leave a vent open. We had all these film school peers, and I brought him
TOTAL RECALL to work on together. And he showed me what he had on ALIEN. And I
came up with the chest-burster. "He impregnates him. He injects something
into him. And it just bursts out of his chest." And then we knew, now the
story's gonna work. No one's seen something like that. After that moment it
took us only three months to get the whole structure, and then maybe another 3
months to get the script written. And it was virtually exactly as you see on
the screen, except for Ash being a robot, which was Walter Hill's idea.
: Did you and Dan O'Bannon really wear
raincoats for that scene?
: Sure we did. Ridley didn't tell the actors
what was going to happen. They shot the scene up to there. The next day they
had a dummy body; John Hurt's head attached to a hollow body. And underneath
they had a puppeteer with the chestburster, and a guy with a pump full of
arterial blood. None of the actors knew – they thought, we're gonna do that
But I saw Sigourney looking really scared. She said, "I
am scared." Because she'd seen Dan O'Bannon and I trying on raincoats and
giggling like it was Christmas morning. So she knew something disgusting was
going to happen.
We only needed one take. We had five cameras on the actors.
Veronica actually fainted. She hadn't seen John get under the dummy body, so
she couldn't understand how his body could split open. She passed right out.
The funny thing, after the chest-burster, there's only three
tiny specks of blood in the whole movie. We shot lots of gore, but we didn't
use it. When the Alien gets Yaphet Kotto, you see the teeth going into his forehead,
but then we cut away. We spent a lot of money shooting all the gore, because
you don't know until you get to the previews whether you may need that extra
moment of goriness. But we didn't.
: How do you know when something is ready to
: I go a lot on the feedback of my peers. I
have about three or four people I'll bounce my ideas off of. Usually I trust my
own instincts. If I'm
getting lukewarm reactions I'll put it aside. Maybe come
back with an improvement. Rarely do I plunge right ahead and send something
out, unless I have underlying rights that are going to expire.
: How many projects do you typically work on
: I can't write more than two at once, at
that's only possible when you have co-writers. I tried three once, and I almost
had a nervous breakdown.
Right now I'm just completing two scripts at the same time.
One is a huge budget sci-fi, maybe $125 million. One is a low budget horror,
around $15 million.
I think the big budget sci-fi is the best and most
commercial screenplay I've written in some time. The big tent pole pictures,
very few have great characters. You used to have outdoor adventures like GUNGA
DIN and THE ALAMO – all the action and great, timeless characters. So I started
thinking, I want to write a science fiction that has as much character
development as those movies.
I like this low budget horror I'm talking about. It's based
on [famous 19th
Century horror story], and I tried to think how to
make that fresh. And then I had an idea that [obviously I'm not going to tell
you guys his hook!].
But I knew I needed three completely new effects for the
script to be better than a pretty good movie. I spent four or five months just
working on coming up with three new effects that nobody has ever seen before.
There was a point where I had two of them. But I knew in my heart, if I were
reading the script for the first time, I would not be amazed. Two days ago, I
came up with the idea that [third effect]. And I knew, when they see this,
they're gonna be buzzing for fifteen minutes.
I really try to have special effects that are bizarre. Two
of the most spectacular scenes in TOTAL RECALL were not in the Philip Dick
story: the Kuato scene, and the Edgemar scene, "I've been implanted in
your brain to talk you down."
They can't just be original special effects. They have to
further the story telling. That's the most common mistake I've seen in big
budget sci-fi's. If you root the effects in the story, the audience will be far
: If you're
working on a script for months just thinking about new special effects – you're
obviously not typing all that time. How do you tell when you're usefully
setting your mind free by, say, reading websites or books or going on walks or
hanging out with friends, and when you're just really loafing?
: I never really
stop thinking about the work. That's something my wife doesn't love about me.
I'm truly an obsessed man and I'm thinking about it every moment. My friends
would say, if a nude blonde came and put herself on Ron's lap, he'd ask her,
"What do you think about Total Recall?" That's not good socially. But
I'm obsessed with it. I don't want to be a one trick pony.
Sometimes you get a great idea when you're in a shower. My
brain doesn't do it's best before ten o'clock at night. I had an amazing idea
last night at 2 in the morning. That's my low budget horror. I've been working
on it a year and a half already, I have everything but I need one more great
effect. I'm making myself crazy, nobody's read it except for my co-writer. And
then, just as I'm getting into bed, it comes, and I'm thinking, "Oh my
God, this is worthy – yes, this came from the man who co-created ALIEN."
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Ron Shusett is a veteran screenwriter and producer. You probably know him best from ALIEN, which he co-wrote with Dan O'Bannon, along with TOTAL RECALL. He also wrote a draft of MINORITY REPORT, for which he was an executive producer. I had a chance to interview him, so I did, because how do you not interview Ron Shusett when you have a chance?
: You're quoted on your IMDb bio page
as saying, "I've never written a screenplay by myself. And with good reason. There's one aspect of screenwriting I'm weak at -- character development. I always had a natural gift for the storytelling as well as the film's big moments -- whether it be suspense, action and high-powered imaginative scenes. But when it came to fleshing out the people, the more realistic, mundane aspects of a script that are critical to have you care about the people, I was always mediocre." Can you talk about how you collaborate?
: I realized long ago that I can occasionally write character scenes that work, but it's a lot of work for me. So over the years,
I've worked with different screenwriters: Dan O'Bannon, Gary Goldman, Steve Pressfield. Steve mostly wrote novels, and he's great with characters. We wrote ABOVE THE LAW together. That was a joy – a low budget movie that made a lot of money. The structure was great.
I've deliberately chosen to write my screenplays with people whose strengths are not mine. I'm very good with crazy ideas. I've always had an ear for pacing. But if I hadn't gotten all those people to write with me, the screenplays would not have had the success they did. If I write a screenplay myself, and then read it, I can tell there are some good things in there, but as a producer, I wouldn't buy this. I love Dan O'Bannon's characters in ALIEN – Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto's truck drivers in space.
So usually I come up with an idea or a source, and do two pages on it. Then I get a co-writer who's talented with characters. I like to have someone who, for example, when I come up with the chest-burster, he'll say, "Yeah, that's good, I like that!"
Then we'll start with a ten-page outline. Sometimes it'll go to twenty pages. We'll develop a scene-by-scene.
Then we'll sit on the first act together. Usually my co-writer writes the second act, and I'll rewrite it; and then I'll write the third act, because I have a sense of how the pacing needs to pick up. I don't try to figure it out, my gut tells me this is what has to happen. When I'm done, he'll rewrite that, he'll work on the characters.
I think I excel at third acts. It's the hardest to get right in a genre piece. In a character piece you can waver back and forth. You can do what you want to get to the end. But with a suspense or action piece you have to end up in a specific place.
: You've often
started with an optioned short story…
: I was one of the first people to adapt Philip K. Dick
for the screen. He's one of the most brilliant sci-fi thinkers of the last 50
years. How many original ideas can I find as good as that? If I get a great
idea from a short story, I can write many more hits than I could by writing by
Now of course there have been seven movies based on Phil
Dick, and five have failed at the box office. I've been involved in the two
successful ones: TOTAL RECALL and
MINORITY REPORT. Even BLADE RUNNER was a failure when it came out, although now
Back then, Phil Dick's stories weren't considered
literature, they were considered pulp fiction. They didn't have the gravitas of
success attached to them. He only made a few thousand dollars from his stories.
He never made the crosser to being a well paid writer, even though his stories
had this brilliant wisdom to them, prophetic thoughts.
I optioned TOTAL RECALL, the underlying short story in 1976.
People had never heard of Phil Dick, they said, "You'll never be able to
pull it off, the plot is too complex for main stream audiences to follow—and
you need them because it is very expensive to make."
I wrote the first three drafts of MINORITY REPORT with Gary
Goldman. I did not wind up with a writing credit on it because I had an
executive producer title, and according to the old WGA rules, if you were a
producer, you had to have done 60% of the writing to get a credit.
Spielberg wanted to bring in a much darker feeling than I was known for.
: ALIEN'S dark in
a different way. It's a science fiction / fantasy kind of darkness. Spielberg
brought into MINORITY REPORT that Tom Cruise's son had been kidnapped by a
pedophile. I could never write something like that. I can write bizarre
darkness because it's fanciful.
: In your opinion,
are we meant to take away from TOTAL RECALL that he really saved Mars, or that
he's still in the chair?
interpretation is that I wanted you to feel it's real, or otherwise why was I,
as an audience, so immersed in it. But we also crafted it carefully so that you
can also interpret that he's back in the chair – and we love it. Everybody
wanted it to come out that way, and if you craft something well enough, the
audience will accept it.
More tomorrow of my interview with Ron Shusett!
Saturday, November 17, 2012
I have recently been perusing Brian Robb's lovely Steampunk: An Illustrated History of fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film, and Other Victorian Visions
... and may I digress to say that peruse is one of those words that, like bemused, have come to mean its opposite, and therefore is of rather dubious usefulness. Peruse theoretically means "to read thoroughly," and "bemused" to mean "bewilder, stun"; but we seem to use peruse to mean "browse," and bemuse to mean "mildly surprised"...
... but no matter. It is a lovely book that investigates the phenomenon of science fiction set in a more technologically competent Victorian Age, where Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace's Analytical Engine enables steam-powered airships and, possible, Captain Nemo's Nautilus. If the science fiction of the future is getting a little hard to follow, then the science fiction of the past is more easily swallowed.
Some of my favorite authors are in here. Tim Powers (of The Anubis Gates
, although it is not strictly steam-powered), and Neal Stephenson (of The Diamond Age
, although that's really nanotech); and I imagine when I have the time I can get into James Blaylock some more, the chap who actually invented Steampunk as a lifestyle choice and not merely a territory.
I would not have minded a few more pictures of modern steampunk cosplay, especially if they involved Lady Clankington
. But this is a survey, and it needs to leave room for Manga and Wild, Wild West
. My only real quibble is that when the book fell to the floor, the binding took it rather badly. I guess I will have to encase it in some sort of leather and springloaded iron contraption...
Thursday, November 15, 2012
I need to rehearse a scene with two actresses on Saturday the 24th, for about 4 hours. We need about 15' x 20' room to move around. Can anyone recommend a free rehearsal space? Or if not free, very very cheap?
In related news, we need to find a finished basement we can shoot in for two days, December 10-11, ideally with ceilings not too low, a visible stairway, and a couple of high basement-type windows. Would anyone be willing to volunteer a basement?
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I spent the day at the Montreal International Game Summit. Among the more interesting talks was Amir Rao's post-mortem on Bastion, a fine downloadable game which has sold 1.5 million copies and won a slew of awards. He said that many of the most innovative and freshest aspects of the game came about when he and his team were attempting to solve their design problems. They just attempted to come up with ways to solve these problems that players hadn't seen before.
For example: in a 2D isomorphic game, you don't get to see the sky. Solution: place the fantasy landscape in the sky, so that we see the sky below the landscape. And have the landscape form under the player's feet as he walks, rather than just have it there all the time.
I interviewed Ron Shusett last night. He's been working on his current screenplay for a year. He got the structure down a long time. He's been holding the script back, though, until he could come up with three totally fresh and new special effects.
Dan O'Bannon had been working on ALIEN year and a half, but he hadn't figured out how to get the alien on board the ship in a fresh way. Then Ron Shusett came up with the chest-burster. Without that, would the movie have got made? Would it have been iconic? Would it have spawned a franchise?
Point is: the best creators are not satisfied with the traditional. They go the extra mile, or the extra month, or in some cases, the extra year, to come up with something that no one has seen before.
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
Interested in how people make web series? My buddy Elize Morgan has gone to the trouble of interviewing a whole slew of people who make web series. And she has made a book, How to Make a Web Series
, out of it. I particularly liked the conversation with Jane Espenson about her series HUSBANDS, which is more or less a TV pilot episode shot and aired in two minute chunks.
What Elize doesn't cover is the financing and monetization of web series. Annoying Orange and Têtes à Claques sell merchandise, but how does a series with a viewership of, say, fifty thousand or a hundred thousand make money for its makers?
But if you're looking for exposure, it is pretty cool that you can now shoot, cut and distribute your own series for the price of a computer and a phone. Elize has the goods -- check it out.
Monday, November 05, 2012
Interesting trick novelist Hilary Mantel uses (from The New Yorker feature
When she's starting a new book, she needs to feel her way inside the characters, to know what it's like to be them... Sit quietly and withdraw your attention from the room you're in until your'e focussed inside your mind. Imagine a chair and invite your character to come and sit in it; once he is comfortable, you may ask him questions. She tried this for the first time when she was writing "The Giant, O'Brien": the giant came in, but, before sitting down in the chair, he bent down and tested it, to see if it would take his weight. On that occasion, she never got an further, because she was so excited that she punched the air and shouted "Yes!" but from then on she could imagine herself in the giant's body."
Try it, see how it works.