Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Novels, scripts, struggle, podcasts

Ever since Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month challenge - try it next November!), I have been struggling a bit to stay focused on this evolving-novel project; up to 19,000 words, and there are some good ones, if I can be cocky. This motivator helped me set a daily writing goal, which I found very helpful.

Other writing: I write a few poems per week, usually during lunch breaks. I like to get away from my job, walk to the high school football field nearby, and write down some thoughts and observations, trying to match the most powerful, eloquent language to describe whatever it is that I am going for in the poem.

Podcast recommendations: I've been listening to a few regular podcasts and would recommend them - Creative Screenwriting magazine's podcasts (avail. through iTunes for free) and Barbara Demarco-Barrett's Writers on Writing podcast (see also for more).

Polishing up a screenplay I wrote several years ago and received positive feedback on from a few people that work in the film industry. It's a drama centered on divorce -- yes, it's life affirming. Agents and producers, e-mail me and I will send you some pages.

Three courses (four at most) left on my master's degree ... yee ha!

Until next time, happy reading and writing,

- Tim

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Resurgence of Excellence in Hollyweird (Commercial) Films: Can't Break His Will

Having worked nearly eight years in film production, I watch films with a hypercritical eye. Especially having read numerous books on film and visual imagery, e.g. Ways of Seeing by Berger, Story by Robert McKee, and In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch, my expectations are high when offering up eight to ten dollars for a film experience. Also, I should share that my film interests are wide: classic, Film Noir, films by John Hughes, David Lynch, Tim Burton (most of them), Alex Cox, Spike Jonze, and films written by Charles Kaufman, among others.

So recently I saw The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith and his son. I entered the film house with little expectation of what it would be like other than the general media buzz that it was good. Being critical of the media, I knew that this was not a guarantee of finding it satisfying, but I went to see a drama about a working-class man who confronts the many challenges encountered when “climbing the ladder” of success or “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps.” The film engaged me and brought forth emotion. That being said, I consider it a successful film.

Visually, the city of San Francisco is stunning and a stark contrast against Smith’s character’s humble apartment and hotel rooms in which his family lives. Without giving away too much plot, in case you have not yet seen this film, I will keep the discussion general. Again, being a veteran of filmmaking and its techniques, I was happily engrossed in the storytelling enough to forget that a crew was hovering outside of each frame – a difficult thing for me to accomplish usually. This is not innovative, earth-shattering movie making – as some on apparently expected – but an engaging, heartfelt story of struggle in our often heartless economic system. Yes, some of the characters are stereotypical and thinly written. Overall, the viewer witnesses a moving tale of one family’s survival and disappointments, which either strengthens their determination or breaks their will. The son – Smith’s actual son – is a brilliant, believable actor. Personally, I have never seen Will Smith in a better film or performance – one forgets all about the radically opposite role he played in Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He deserves awards and recognition for Happyness. He will get it.

So, in review, here is how the film “roped me in”:

- Strong characters and narrative (traditionally linear in fashion)
- A believable story with drama and conflict building in tension
- A classic release of tension in the story’s resolution, however, one might decide it is too predictable; I did not – the actual scenes and dialogue making up the resolution were fresh and consistent with the story arc.

If you, as I often am, are looking for non-traditional forms of storytelling and filmmaking – Big Fish, Brazil, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich… – then this is not going to satisfy. However, if you are seeking a life-affirming human story of struggle and success, even more convincing or at least as heartfelt as Rudy, then Happyness is that sort of film. - Tim J. Nelson