Monday, January 04, 2010

New Script Tips & Facebook Hack

Yes, I promised new Script Tips, and they are rolling out... but there may be some delays because of one of those crazy things that happen in our new electronic world...

Someone hacked my Facebook account yesterday. For a whole day some lunatic was posting a bunch of crazy stuff and even interacting with my friends. That’s kind of the creepy part. I’d say I have no idea how it happened, but I suspect I clicked on one of those links - Hamsters Flood or more likely some famous hottie who loses her top. Those things are always scams or some kind of hack. I usually make it a policy never to click on anything from a friend that doesn’t have a message that seems like it would have come from them, but I now have so many “friends” on FB that I don’t know - so it’s hard to tell what some dude I have never met might say.

It used to be different. When I first got on FB it was going to be ONLY my actual friends. I was going to use MySpace for anyone who wanted to be my cyberfriend and get the daily tip link and blog links and a certain number of jokes and smart ass remarks, and FB would be people I really know. Then MySpace became a ghost town and I just stopped posting there... and opened the doors at FB to *anyone* who wanted to be my friend. And that may have resulted in someone else getting hacked and then me getting hacked yesterday.

The strange part about having your FB account hacked are the messages. Who sits around typing this nonsense:

“When lottery hits $640m, play 2, 4, 23, 38, 46, mega 23.”

Yeah, right - like the lottery is ever gonna get that high! The highest lotto payout *ever* was $390m in March of 2007. And the hacker thinks it’s gonna be double that someday? And what the hell does this mean:

“11-11-29 BofA stock - buy.”

I’m supposed to buy Bank Of America stock? Is this one of those Make Millions Buying Penny Stock scams - just with Bank Of America? I don’t even bank there, why would I buy their stock? The hacker posted a bunch of weird stuff like this. Just an endless stream of crazy things that don’t make sense to me - and probably made my FB friends (both the ones I know and the ones I have never met) think I’ve gone crazy. You post a “sorry, I was hacked” message, but how many people see it in the stream and how many people miss it and think you lost your mind yesterday... but seem to have found it today (between the sofa cushions, along with some loose change).

The worst part of all of this were the direct communications with people I actually know. There are some of these where I don’t really know what I should do - apologize? For things some hacker said? And the hacker said *weird* stuff - he/she/transgendered person posted a note on one friend’s wall telling them how much I appreciate the things they have done for me in the past, even if I never said it. Now, I actually *could* have posted that - what’s weird about this is that’s really how I feel - but, I feel that way about many other people the hacker didn’t post crap to. The message gets creepy at the end, though, when it says that when they are on vacation they should not fly from Dubai to India on Air India Express Flight 812. What the hell does that mean? Is this hacker some travel agent that gets a better commission if they take some other airline? The problem is - I want to explain that some hacker wrote that nonsense... but it’s in the same message as kind of a heartfelt thing about how much I (well, really the hacker) need to say how much I care about this person. Can’t take back the crazy stuff without taking back the good stuff (even if I didn’t post it - I really do feel this way about this person). Oh, and the weird thing is - they have been talking about going to the Middle East and India and want to compare the wealth of Dubai with the poverty of India... so this crazy thing about what airline to fly seems like part of a conversation we had a few months ago.

Yikes! What if I was sleep FBing or something! And why couldn’t I be sleep New Tip Writing instead?

But if I *don’t* tell these people all of these weird heartfelt messages were from the hacker, what do I say to them when I see them next? What it someone *asks* about the weird thing about “Don’t drive 1-35 @ 10-14-2 - just stay home that day” - what the hell does that even mean? They should *only* drive over 35mph? How do they start the car? The problem is this hacker has created a bunch of weird little ticking timebomb problems for me, and I don’t know what I should say if one of my friends asks me what that crazy stuff means. But if I tell them it was just me being hacked - it kind of means the nice things the hacker said were lies. This hacker was *devious*!

Some of you already know how I handled this - and I’m sorry if it upset you. I decided to send e-mails (not FB) saying that I was hacked and the heartfelt messages with the weird endings like “you can’t climb down a chimney to enter a house - the flue gets in the way” were fakes. Of course they were fakes - why would I send a message about chimneys to a *doctor*? And that the heartfelt parts were true - even though some crazy hacker wrote them. Problem is, I think some people are mad at me... and feel like I said something nice, took it back, then tried to say it again. Freakin’ hacker has hurt some of my real relationships, and that’s worse than any of the weird posts like “10-11-2 - bag of money BofA MDR Admirality - dye pack!”. (Hacker has a thing for BofA!) So, if you are one of those who are angry with me now, I’m sorry. It wasn’t my fault, it was just part of this crazy high-tech world where someone pretends they are you and ruins your life... then vanishes. I have no idea how you recover from stuff like this - it reminds me of the Harlan Ellison story SHATTERDAY about the guy who has an exact double... who is *nicer* than he is. That’s the biggest problem with this devious hacker - he/she/tyransgendered person said *nice* things along with the crazy things, so if you take back one you have to take back the other.

So, that’s why the new Script Tips may take a while to post this month. I’m still dealing with having my FB account hacked for *one day* (imagine if this hacker had decided to post crap for a week or a month!). Everything seems to be normal now... so I’d better get back to work on the tips.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: That's Episodic! - and one of 2009's worst films: YEAR ONE.
Yesterday's Dinner: Three Brothers Chinese in Pleasant Hill - Shanghai Porkchops.
Bicycle: No - I'm home for the holidays without a cycle, but I walked a few miles to burn off some of this holiday weight.


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Movies: AVATAR - I saw AVATAR with a couple of old friends over the holidays... and everybody wants to know what I thought of it. We saw it in 3D but not in IMAX - I’m not really a fan of IMAX showings of movies not shot in that format - and the first thing I would say to anyone who hasn’t seen AVATAR yet but is planning on it, is to see it in 3D. I’ll get to the reason why in a minute. My friends - one is an award winning documentary film maker who actually won an award for a film he made last year, and the other is a theatre (stage) director in the San Francisco Bay Area (oh, and a produced playwright, too) - and both of them liked AVATAR more than I did. That doesn’t mean I disliked it, just that these two guys wanted to race out and buy a ticket for the next showing... and I thought I might see it again... sometime.

Wait... but what did I think of it? Well, someone at the New Years Eve party I went to asked me that, and here’s how I answered...

Story-wise, AVATAR isn’t anything new - it’s basically the same story as DANCES WITH WOLVES and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (which also co-starred Michelle Rodriguez). We have our young soldier going undercover to bring down an enemy. In F&F he hooks up with the enemy chief’s sister, in AVATAR he hooks up with the enemy chief’s daughter. In F&F there’s another member of the gang who does not accept him... until he proves himself, and in AVATAR it’s the chief’s daughter’s fiance who doesn’t accept him until he proves himself. In both films our undercover guy reaches a point where he isn’t sure what side he’s on - he’s left the reservation and gone native. In F&F the undercover guy has a foot in both camps until he realizes that he has to take down the enemy... but tries to find a way to do it without hurting his new friends too much. In AVATAR the undercover guy has a foot in both camps until he comes to realize his side is wrong... and he joins the enemy side to take down his own people. That’s more like DANCES WITH WOLVES. But the story follows the path created by other movies without ever veering too far into the jungle.

And the dialogue in AVATAR is just there to get it from one point to the next, nothing as cool and memorable as “You have to look with better eyes than that.” from THE ABYSS, but also nothing as awful as “Jack, this is where we first met!” from TITANIC... though the name of the planet and the mineral they are mining come damned close. Mostly the dialogue is just there. Sometimes it’s the most obvious thing to say, but it’s never just awful. I wish someone had been brought in to make it more clever, more memorable, more interesting... but we just get bland and average dialogue.

While they were rewriting the dialogue they could have taken care of some of those nagging little things like the military not firing a nice big missile in one of the end battles, but flying some sort of barge filled with pallets of C4 and just dumping them on the Navi stronghold. Sure, there was that line of dialogue about how missile guidance systems didn’t work in that region, but we fired missiles long distances and hit targets long before we had guidance systems... and the helicopter missiles seemed to work okay in that region. This stuff needed some work!

Same can be said for the characters - we kind of get the same major characters as in ALIENS, just taken from the other side. We have the Corporate Creep who will do anything to make sure the company makes a big old bag of money - Giovanni Ribisi playing the Paul Riser role. We have our gung-ho military guy who has all kinds of nice weapons for use in close encounters - Stephen Lang playing the Michael Biehn role. We have a scientist who starts out a company flunky and ends up saving the day - Dileep Rao playing the Lance Henrickson role (Dileep’s second scene stealing role after working for Sam Raimi in DRAG ME TO HELL). And we have the bad-ass babe soldier - Michelle Rodriguez from FAST AND THE FURIOUS playing the Jenette Goldstein role. Plus the guy who panics and the protective mother alien and, of course, Sigourney Weaver. Everybody does okay with what they are given, and even though we are often missing some character shading, each character serves their purpose and even has that little scene where they shine. Basically, “okay” but not “great”... so what the hell is good about AVATAR?

The world.

I have a Script Tip in rotation called “Take Us Someplace Cool” about the importance of taking the audience into an interesting world, whether it’s the world on con men or the world of wizards or that world in LORD OF THE RINGS... and this is where AVATAR gets bonus points. For two and a half hours you are not on Earth... you are in a very real alien world filled with all kinds of interesting details. It’s like watching a National Geographic special that takes you somewhere that humans have never seen before... maybe the bottom of the ocean. In fact, so many of the elements of this world look like things you would see on a voyage to the bottom of the sea... and Cameron has been down there... that I suspect that world was the main inspiration for “Pandora”.

The trailer, in 2D, made it look like a bunch of blue cartoons running around. Watching the movie in 3D I believed that these were living creatures. And there were a million different types of creatures and plants and birds and... well, it was like a travelogue - which is another mark in the plus column. We got to experience a world completely unlike our own - to be somewhere else for 2.5 hours. Complete escape.

That’s one of the things some writers may underestimate - creating that world that is a complete escape from reality. Many writers think that screenwriting is about the facts, about reality... but that’s what *journalism* is. Screenwriting, from Melies' magical silent films to Lang’s Mabuse spy films and METROPOLIS to STAR WARS and James Bond, movies are traditionally not reality. They give us larger than life stories and exciting fantasies. It’s “Let’s Pretend” on a mass scale. Kids play cops & robbers and cowboys & indians and all kinds of fantasy role-playing games... and movies offer the same thing without the wooden horses. Creating that world that provides an escape into an exciting fantasy world is *job one* for a screenwriter - and AVATAR’s fantasy world is rich in details... plus, just about everybody is nekkid except for a loin cloth and way too much neck jewelry on the women.

AVATAR is an *experience*.

That’s why you have to see it in 3D... it’s not so much a story as a chance to live in another world for 2.5 hours... and 3D makes that world seem as if it is all around you. You could reach out and touch it. None of the 3D is DR TONGUE”S HOUSE OF 3D BEEF with gotchas and paddle-balls zooming out of the screen, the 3D in AVATAR is just used to create depth. Took me a while to get used to it, but after a while the 3D was a natural part of being immersed in this world. Cinders from a fire float down on you. Seed pods float on aircurrents past your head.

I’m saving some of the AVATAR stuff for a new Script Tip, but here’s one of the things that was a stroke of genius: A big problem I have with story notes is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t - there is no “yes” in the word “notes”. If you don’t motivate a character to do something unusual, you will get a note about it. But if you *do* go to the trouble of creating a motivation for a character to do something that is “movie stupid” like going into that haunted house where the legend has it a dozen people were brutally killed, you’ll get the note “We don’t really need that, it’s a movie convention that high school kids go into the haunted house - no explanation required!” So you end up with more stupid unmotivated high school kids walking into a house where no one has ever walked out alive. I would rather have them motivated - and always make sure anything that a normal person would not do has some reason behind it. The audience may not go into that death house themselves, but when a character with some sort of *reason* goes inside, instead of thinking “They’re complete idiots” they think “That’s a mistake”. Hey, people make mistakes. You can still care about someone who makes a mistake... but someone who does something downright stupid? They deserve whatever happens to them.

So, a major element that allows us to understand why Jake Sully would want to keep going back to the Navi world and even turn against his own people... is that wheel chair. That’s one of the things that pulled me into that fantasy world and made the blue cartoons into *people*. When Sully can walk again as a Navi... and then starts *running* with his new Navi legs... it’s something I can completely understand. That was a great moment - a big emotional human moment (even though the dude was a blue alien at that point). When Sully keeps going back - even though the Navi world becomes less attractive - I completely believed it because he *had legs* as a Navi. He could walk, run, climb! And if you had to choose between a world where you could walk and a world where you were a physical person who could no longer be physical - which would you pick? Even though you may not personally turn against the humans invading the planet, you can *understand* why Sully might. The military guy promises if Sully helps bring down the Navis they will give him the best doctors available to try to get his legs working again... but as a Navi he already has legs right now. Making Jake Sully an injured soldier in a wheel chair is one of those little things that pays off big time.

There were *many* other great visual things in the film - places where a picture really was worth a thousand words. Easy for some writers to miss those things and focus on the bland dialogue. But the main thing that AVATAR has going for it - the reason why it seems some people may be seeing it again (it is the third fastest movie to make $300m domestic... and is just broke $1 *billion* worldwide) is the world it takes us into. That escape into an interesting place we have never seen before, filled with wonder and details and all of those things we watch National Geographic to experience. It’s a 2.5 hour vacation... and I suspect if I were to see it again I would notice all kinds of things about that planet that I missed the first time. It is a film rich in detail... and somebody *created* that world and those details.

Somebody *wrote* that.

- Bill

4 comments:

Richard J. McKenzie said...

'Call Me Joe' story by Poul Anderson (1957)- 'centers on a paraplegic who telepathically connects with an artificially created life form in order to explore a harsh planet'.

also, Star Trek/TOS pilot The Cage/Menagerie. "Captain Pike has an illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant."

Jon Molly said...

Great script tip today. "A Christmas Story" is another great example of an episodic script that works thanks to the overarching plot of one boy's quest for a BB gun. This screenplay is fascinating, because it is based on a series of short stories - it's just a series of vignettes tied together by one long term storyline.

Okay, there are scenes not driven by the BB gun storyline like the father with his "major award". That's all B-plot, though, so it doesn't count.

DS said...

There's nothing wrong with the name of the mineral they're looking for. "Unobtanium" is a real term used by engineers for decades to describe any difficult to acquire or costly material.

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