Friday, February 29, 2008
Took H to the train station early this morning, then errands at the post office, then breakfast at Fat City, where I haven't eaten for a while. This Portland institution serves my favorite breakfast, and I've been ordering the same thing there for decades. Talk about routine and habit. In fact, I like routine and habit in my life, unlike in my work, where I'm easily bored and where I'm reluctant to do something I've already done unless I get paid in advance for it.
Fat City has not bent one centimeter in compromise of the New Age fad for "healthy breakfasts" and continues to serve the same "unhealthy breakfasts" they've always served, and I love them for it. The place doesn't change. The place doesn't need to change. In good restaurants, as in good literature and art, change is not an improvement.
Now for some piano practice before class. A weekend to myself, H not picked up until Sunday evening. Polish the splay and mail the "cranked up" version to my agent, finish learning a couple banjo tunes, progress on the new splay.
Seeger was practicing "the audacity of hope" long before Obama was even born. Here is a national treasure, perhaps the most optimistic artist in our history. "The Power of Song," aptly titled, is the American Masters feature on him on public television, which aired here last night. Nothing startling or new in it if you know about Seeger but an important and moving reminder nonetheless. My own disposition is far less optimistic about almost everything but it's good to have these folks, these true believers, around. If they're right, and I'm wrong, the world will be a better place.
In high school, I taught myself banjo with his instruction book.
Pete Seeger Timeline.
The Poetry of Ruth Pitter
Thursday, February 28, 2008
The office hours activity today (between student visits) is to brainstorm the new/next screenplay.
As a result of the deep division, no Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded. Gravity's Rainbow did share the National Book Award that year. Pynchon, however, declined to appear at the ceremony.
I'm looking forward to Saturday when I can print out the screenplay and sit down with my red pen and go over it carefully again. I hope to send the rewrite to my agent on Sunday or Monday. I want to impress him with how quickly I deliver :-).
Also, while in StorySpace for the hyperdrama structure, I realized it's been a long time since I wrote a literary hypertext -- and the "Nails In My Coffin" material would really lend itself to this. Hypertext works best, in my view, when the story is constructed of vignettes. This material lends itself to that. I may think about this. In the meantime, though, the Cold War novel is next on the agenda for "traditional" narrative forms but I don't expect to return to it until after the hyperdrama video is done. What I'll turn to next week, I suppose, is the new screenplay. I'd like to deliver it before summer. I want to impress my agent with how quickly I deliver :-).
I think the splay rewrite is such a huge improvement, I'm humbled and a little pissed at myself that I hadn't cranked it up this much to begin with. I bet I still get notes for doing more but I think this is a huge step in the right direction. We're talking genre here, a romantic thriller, and in the first draft there wasn't enough "thriller" in the story.
My agent sticks with me because he loves my writing style: he's called me "a reader's, producer's dream" for my tight, concise screenwriting and dialog. But every story I've given him has been too "small" for his commercial tastes and targets. So I'm learning a hell of a lot with him. I am not a natural "commercial" storyteller. More naturally, I tell deep dark little dramas of human secrets, like my posthumous play "Oregon Dream," or broader social satires. I am having a ton of fun trying to write more commercially actually. Interestingly enough, I could never get interested in this as a prose writer, writing commercial novels, because there the language itself is so important and in general I can't stand the writing in popular fiction. But in a screenplay, the writing is pushed aside by the story. It's a story-driven form, and so I'm having a lot of fun with that without feeling like a literary whore.
And I could do none of this without the wonderful accident of my agent. It's a total fluke how he found me -- an old script, "The Brazen Wing", was in a pile somewhere, he got a copy, read it and responded. He had me change two story points, which I did, both to be more commercial (like the guy doesn't die at the end), and we were off and running.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Found a replacement actor, one I've worked with in two shorts. A solid cast now. (I cast the writer because he looks perfect and could do it -- but his attitude is all to hell. Don't have time for it.)
Had to "uncast" one of my hyperdrama actors. He's a writer first and I sensed in his attitude during email exchanges a situation that might be a problem later in the heat of shooting -- so I'm going to recast with someone with more experience now and avoid dealing with the guy later.
First read through is March 9th.
Voters in this town of about 500 voted narrowly Monday to recall Carmen Kontur-Gronquist. The tally was 142-139. City officials said the recall is effective Tuesday.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Also working on a new banjo tune that's going pretty well.
Strokes seem to come in cycles. Got the first in a while last week and today two more ended up in my email box. Always nice to learn somebody is responding.
That's what is particularly satisfying about playwriting -- the live response of an audience. You write a good funny line of dialog and by the gods, an audience laughs at it! They applaud like hell at the end! But it can be frustrating, too -- something doesn't work, or an actor makes a mistake so something doesn't work (most of the time, actors add much more than they subtract from a script!). Playwriting permits the writer to experience live response to the work. Nothing like it.
I love watching my plays from the light booth, where I can spend as much time watching the audience as watching the play. You learn a hell of a lot doing this.
Here's what I've come up with.
Both .html and .wmv files will follow the same naming strategy.
A file name V03-R.htm will indicate the web home for scene 3, Robert's narrative path.
Let's say scene 3 is a two character scene, Robert and Hollie. I shoot a two-shot and then angles on each of the characters. The video files would be: V03-R-aR.wmv, V03-R-aH.wmv etc. For different takes, V03-R-aRt1.wmv, V03-R-aRt2.wmv. A two-shot,
I have to brood about this more to see if it needs refinement. The key is, the file name must reveal all the important information I need at a glance, so I'm not searching for a particular video file later. The .html pages, in contrast, will concentrate on the character paths through the hyperdrama. There will be one web page hosting one video file.
Note that the names of the video files above are for raw footage. After each scene gets edited, the file name will denote the character path: V03-R01.htm, V03-R08.htm, i.e. the first and eighth web pages (with video file embedded on each) in the sequence of Robert's narrative path. And the corresponding video files will be V03-R01.wmv, V03-R08.wmv, etc., these the files that get uploaded to YouTube.
Yes, this is complicated. But if you don't have a clear organization of file names, man, it is a major nightmare later!
Monday, February 25, 2008
A very powerful Romanian film! Grim, compelling, tense. Effective use of static camera: lots of static 2 shots, long silences. It all works in context. About as un-Hollywood in its film story strategy as you can get. An art film, I suppose it's called -- but this one is full of tension and suspense.
Watching this ugly Clinton-Obama duel, I can understand what she was talking about.
DALLAS — There is a hushed worry on the minds of many supporters of Senator Barack Obama, echoing in conversations from state to state, rally to rally: Will he be safe?
In Colorado, two sisters say they pray daily for his safety. In New Mexico, a daughter says she persuaded her mother to still vote for Mr. Obama, even though the mother feared that winning would put him in danger. And at a rally here, a woman expressed worries that a message of hope and change, in addition to his race, made him more vulnerable to violence.
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Best Original Music. Once.
Diablo Cody. Best Original Screenplay. Juno.
A year ago, these artists were as unknown as the thousands and thousands of their colleagues who do good work but get little recognition for it. Then lightning struck. Two small indie films catapulted them to fame. It can happen. But it never happens if you don't first do the work -- and keep doing the work.
Hi everyone. I just want to thank you so much. This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are. And so thank you so much, who helped us along way. Thank you.
Thanks! This is amazing. What are we doing here? This is mad. We made this film two years ago. We shot on two Handycams. It took us three weeks to make. We made it for a hundred grand. We never thought we would come into a room like this and be in front of you people. It's been an amazing thing. Thanks for taking this film seriously, all of you. It means a lot to us. Thanks to the Academy, thanks to all the people who've helped us, they know who they are, we don't need to say them. This is amazing. Make art. Make art. Thanks.
For me, the highlights of the Oscars.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
A few years ago, I was a judge to select ten scriptwriters (playwrights, screenwriters) whose work would earn them a $7000 fellowship. Each of the scripts by the students above would have been on that list.
Juno won Best Original Screenplay. Hear, hear! I teach it in the spring. No End In Sight did not win Best Documentary. However, my joy in Michael Moore's failure to win more than eases my disappointment.
Which makes it scoundrel time in Hollywood tonight. All that money spent on all those gowns and tuxes on the red carpet.
But dressing up can be fun, I must admit. When my first hyperdrama, performed at the Pittock Mansion, sold out opening night in a few hours at $100 a pop, astronomical for Portland in the 1980s, I knew this was going to be a special event. I ended up arriving in a white tuxedo, and for a few years after that this became my opening night costume, arriving to my play premieres in a white tux. I have a very ugly story about how this tradition ended but this isn't the time to tell it.
In the meantime, I'm going to start parts one and three, where I don't need the actors, sooner rather than later. I'm already gathering image material for them. And -- what fun! -- I'm going to write an original score for it all. This will get me tuned up in Finale before my spring class in its advanced features.
So the major programs I use on this project, in order of primary use, are: StorySpace for structuring the hyperdrama, Sophocles for writing the script, The Flip Video for shooting the scenes, Adobe Premiere Elements for editing the video, Audacity for recording narration, Finale for composing and recording a music track.
And probably a few other things that come up, using VitualDub, Prism, and what not. I couldn't do this without these great tools.
So it's nice to be surprised, as today, with evidence that sometimes someone does give a rat's ass. A link to today's stroke.
Using StorySpace (by far the best tool for doing this sort of thing), my first step was to get a handle on the structure of the hyperdrama within the locations I'll be using. This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with developing the story movement. This done, I then went to Sophocles, my screenplay software (if this were prose, I could write in StorySpace itself, but Sophocles is easier for formatting a screenplay), keeping the StorySpace structural image at hand to keep me grounded.
The first draft of the script came in at 22 pages, which means a single character path through the hypertext should run 5-7 minutes, somewhere in there. Which is about what I was shooting for.
Doing this on video actually is easier for actors than in live performance because now all the actor stress of going on, off, and back on book is entirely removed. I'll be shooting clips and all the assembly happens in editing (making my job harder, tit for tat). As it happens, some of the most magical moments in hyperdrama are improvised, which will be lost here. All the same, this still should be great fun to wander through. Each actor is still "the lead" (in hyperdrama, the major-minor character distinction makes no sense whatever: a democratic form!), so each will have lots of camera time.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
I actually can start writing and shooting the first and third parts of the overall video right away; only the second part uses the actors. Those two sections would be maybe five minutes each. Ballpark guess. I don't want them too long.
you are a reader’s / producer’s dream —- lean, clean descriptions, action lines, sharp dialogue with humor and irony.
And then the other shoe: CRANK IT UP! Well, I predicted just this. What's great is that he gave me 2+ pages of notes and suggestions that make sense to me and still leave me room for adding other "big" things as well. So I'll get back to it and crank it up.
But I love this guy, he's so straight ahead.
A hyperdrama video and lecture-demonstration
By Charles Deemer
In “Changing Key” I will introduce the dramatic principles of hyperdrama, illustrate them with a short dramatic video, and discuss the “nuts & bolts” of writing and producing hyperdrama both for live performance and for film. The entire package will be a structured video accessed through a website with embedded videos that are hosted at YouTube.
Changing Key is organized in three parts.
• Introduction: I’ll begin the video by comparing the differences between traditional dramatic storytelling and storytelling driven by the new dramaturgy of hyperdrama.
• A Short Drama: The new dramaturgy will be illustrated by a short video drama called “Changing Key.” It’s the story of an aging and addicted jazz pianist who has placed himself under house arrest at his sister’s home in order to get straight but then decides he must escape in order to participate in a special gig in New York. The story features 7 actors, each with a unique narrative path through the hyperdrama.
• Nuts & Bolts: I’ll conclude the video with a discussion of the techniques of planning, writing, directing and producing hyperdrama, including the use of specialized software.
Changing Key will be accessed from a website hosted by Ibiblio at the University of North Carolina, in my archival area. Each video link will be embedded at the site, and the links will be structured in a user-friendly fashion for moving through the narrative. Along the way, the user will make particular choices that define a unique path through the overall video presentation.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008
The story is about an addict jazz musician under virtual house arrest, living at his sister's, trying to get straight; and how a couple figures from his past help him fake a relapse in order to escape and catch a gig in Mexico. Several reversals in the narrative, should work out for my purpose, which is to demonstrate how hyperdrama works as dramatic narrative. A sudden and exciting project! Best, "my actors," the ones I worked with last summer, are enthusiastic to participate in this.
I might even be able to write the script this weekend, it will be so short. Maybe 10 or 20 pages. The difficult part of this project, the really difficult part, is thinking through the hypertext structure correctly, making the clips right, and then editing and weaving everything together and coding a web page right to deliver it. But I love doing this stuff.
I don't think there are too many hyperdrama videos out there.
The city has a long history of excellent visual and new-vaudeville performance, from Ric Young’s old extravaganzas as Storefront to the continuing fine work at Do Jump and Imago. Storefront and other companies were Johnny-on-the-spot during Sam Shepard’s brilliant years, putting up feverish productions of his plays almost as soon as they were out of his typewriter. The great Peter Fornara’s moving theatrical circus created some scarily good work. I remember a hilarious version of Feydeau’s “A Flea in Her Ear” (in the John Mortimer translation) at Portland State University’s old summer stock, and a superb version of Noel Coward’s “Design for Living” at either New Rose or early Artists Rep. New Rose and playwright Charles Deemer produced some terrific things together. The likes of Gaynor Sterchi, Mary Marsh and Edris Morrison pushed the history of excellence even earlier. And for roughly 60 years, the old Portland Civic Theatre was recognized as one of the finest community theaters in the country.
Nice to be remembered.
Read full response.
Of course, in my upcoming essay on Fornara, I argue the 1980s were stronger than now, an opinion Hicks agreed with in my interview.
Here is the difference between truth and fantasy. To be sure, I wanted, and I believe most audience members wanted, them to end up together. We like happy endings. If we identify with a character, we want them to be happy. They were so good together, why shouldn't they end up together? Because the real world has real obligations, which can be ignored in fantasy but not in reality and a true story pays attention to the difference. Not that the ending of Once is unhappy. Each character has grown to a degree, has learned how to live better within the parameters of the real world with its responsibilities and stresses. I return to the brilliant closing image of the film: the young woman at the piano, looking out through a small open window in a massive brick building. Here is her lifeline, here is her salvation within the restrictions of her roles as mother and wife.
Once won the audience award at Sundance, helping to propel its eventual commercial success, so stories do not need the fantasy of a Hollywood ending to be popular. Of course, here much of the attraction is the music. And most "true" movies actually have darker endings, some tragic endings. Such is life.
One thing I identified with in Once was the gift of a piano. In the past, when I was relatively wealthy (on a roll of getting grants and awards), I bought my girlfriend at the time, a talented musician and songwriter, a piano. It blew her mind! In fact, it blew her mind so much that it immobilized her, she felt pressured to produce now that she had a piano. It's as if not having one was a convenient excuse, and now she had to put up or shut up. So the gift actually didn't work out too well -- though now, many years later, she realizes the sweetness of the gift.
I've let a couple people see Oregon Dream, and the response has been gratifying. One used words like "uncomfortable, heartwarming ... lovely and pithy and engaging." I especially like the response, uncomfortable.
One understands why I don't want it produced in my lifetime but another does not and thinks I should market it. If I were to change my mind, I wouldn't go the whole hog (as Pinter might say): it would be done anonymously or with a pseudonym. But I'm more comfortable not doing that. I don't need to see it, though I would like to workshop it with actors. I might do that myself down the road. Blessed to spend much of my playwriting career as a resident playwright, I am used to developing scripts with actors.
And now that I'm taking a course in Finale, and will be really up to speed to compose come summer, I'm thinking of storylines for a music drama -- and indeed, THREE LOVES, the posthumous play I'm now working on, has possibilities here, and so do other stories I'm considering for this series. I'd really like to start a music drama, finally, this summer. The Finale course is the perfect kick in the pants.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
This indie film from Ireland, what so many Hollywood agents would call "a nice little film," blew me away the first time I saw it, and it blew me away even more tonight, watching it for the second time. So many things work on so many levels here.
- The music, of course, is wonderful.
- It's that rarest of breeds today, a moving love story without sex, yet retains much sensuality.
- It is beautifully filmed. And the film sequences are put to dramatic use, as when much of the story is told visually without dialog with a song in the background.
- It's title is perfect: some relationships, some moments, happen only once in an individual's life.
- The closing image is perfect, an angle from outside focusing on the young woman at her piano, an extraordinary gift from the guy, looking through a small open window in a large brick building, as if through the single passage to freedom in her brick prison of responsibility, back with her husband, but with music her salvation.
This is a remarkable achievement. Simple and brilliant.
As part of that, I may do what I've been inkling to do, write and produce a video hyperdrama ... short dramatic clips that end with the observer having to make a choice about which narrative thread to follow, which then leads to the next clip. You could do something really interesting with six or eight actors. 30 sec to 1 min. clips before the narrative branches. I'd have to shoot it this spring but that's doable. Very seriously considering this.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
I also had a big crash last June. Windows.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Now the message gets a new champion in a recent book, The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby. Well, it's an age that's been around for centuries, though Jacoby finds the situation particularly troubling now:
But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.
Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.
Well, it probably doesn't matter to this new humanoid creation, Homo consumerus.
But perhaps the situation looks more extreme than it used to look because today we are bombarded more frequently by media that usually follow the anti-intellectual party line. Maybe we were just as stupid in the past as now.
A busy, productive morning, including some piano work. Gets harder, the playing part, but it's the theory I'm taking a liking to. I have no desire to perform, just to be proficient enough to compose.
Nikos Kazantzakis and Zorba
Student work to look at today, plus my own chores and projects and music practice and such. And the sun is out! Maybe I should try and get out into sunshine. Supposed to rain tomorrow.
Actually, from another perspective, I have a sense of working 24/7 and always have.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Let me try this another way. Where I'm coming from.
When I built this, when I was with your mother
early on, living together, even before we got
married, I was happy. I truly was happy. And so was
she. This is the real issue. She refuses to accept
that she was happy with me. She refuses to accept
that she experienced ecstasy with me. With a man, I
suppose it is. What is it, politically incorrect
for a lesbian to have a past of pleasure with me?
But that's not really what I'm getting at. I was
happy then, truly happy. And you know what I
thought at the time? I thought it would only get
better. I was only 25, my life ahead of me, and
already I knew what happiness was. I knew what
ecstasy was. I knew what passion was. And I had my
life ahead of me. Everything would only get better.
What an incredibly energizing thing to feel as a
young man. Never for a moment did I think that this
was it. This was my allotment of happiness. This
was my share in the universe of ecstasy. After this
ended, there'd be nothing more. It would never get
better. After 25, well, after 27, when the shit hit
the fan, after that, everything that followed would
feel empty in comparison. My life of ecstasy was
Dad, it doesn't have to be this way.
When you're my age, I think you'll see it
God, I hope you're wrong.
I wish I was wrong, too. But I'm not. When we're
happy, we think we'll always be happy. And we're
March 16: Selection Sunday
March 20 & 21: First Round
March 22 & 23: Second Round
March 27 & 28: Sweet Sixteen
March 29 & 30: Elite Eight
April 5: Final Four
April 7: Championship Game
Probably my favorite sporting event because of its "playoff" structure and the large number of possible Cinderella teams that get into the mix. I love rooting for the teams with the highest GPA ha ha.
March Madness On Demand, FREE video and audio of all games on your computer!
Saturday, February 16, 2008
If you feel sorry for yourself
this Valentine's Day, think of
the dozens of little paper poppies
left in the box when the last
of the candy is gone, how they
must feel, dried out and brown
in their sad old heart-shaped box,
without so much as a single finger
to scrabble around in their
crinkled petals, not even
one pimpled nose to root and snort
through their delicate pot pourri.
So before you make too much
of being neglected, I want you
to think how they feel.
Friday, February 15, 2008
If I print out my screenplay draft, the day will be even more positive. Then start getting into it tomorrow. Blah.
Henry Miller's "Gob of Spit"
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Five generations of Bowmans help to build the West. Nat Bowman, a logger half Salish Indian, studies forestry and becomes a double agent in the culture war between environmentalists and timber workers focused on owls. Known only as Owl Man--spotted or barred?--he exposes crooks and penetrates an eco terrorist cell after 9/11. Dramatizes the conflict over forests, effects of the Endangered Species Act and urban versus rural politics, with a cast including over thirty tribes.
A retired English professor, Hollister also is a writer on the downhill side of a literary career, which means he's been around long enough to see the changes in the publishing industry after the corporate buyouts and consolidation of media power. These changes, which have turned "literary novel" into a more pejorative term than ever, have run parallel to developments in technology that can be liberating to writers who don't have to establish reputations or seek validation. A lot of writers are taking their good work into their own hands, and Hollister is among the best of the new breed. He deserves your attention.
Michael Hollister Website.
It's always more exciting to teach when you have so many good screenwriters in class. Others, of course, have the usual beginning problems but this class has an unusual number of students who "get it."
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Will be interesting indeed to see how this primary horse race shakes down. The worst scenario for the Democrats, perhaps, and one not at all unlikely, would be for neither candidate to secure the nomination by the convention, which Obama would enter with a lead both in pledged delegates and popular vote. But then the back room political machinery in which the Clintons excel would get into gear, deals and promises would be made, and Hillary would come out the nominee. This would infuriate the Obama folks, the old politics defeating their sense of a new politics, and many would bolt the party. Thus the Republicans would win.
Now maybe the Obama momentum will turn around some old guard superdelegates so this scenario doesn't happen. It's all going to be fascinating to watch, at any rate.
As for me, I believe in the secret ballot. Unlike H, I don't put up lawn signs or bumper stickers, ever. I never tell a pollster whom or what I'm voting for. I once was approached by someone doing an exit poll: I said, None of your damn business! I believe in the secret ballot and behaving as if, in fact, it matters that it's secret, which to me means keeping it secret.
When our family camped under the stars in the Mojave desert, as we often did on summer weekends in the 1950s, I'd get up at 3 to use my telescope. What extraordinary skies out there! In the late 40s and early 50s, camping was pretty rare. Some of my parents friends thought they were strange indeed to drive out into the desert to sleep on the ground. We did the same thing when we'd drive from California to New Jersey to visit relatives, camping as much as staying in a motel. We almost never put up a tent. We usually slept under the stars.
In the Army, as a Russian Linguist we worked on shifts and my favorite shift became "Mids", midnight to 8 a.m., for a variety of reasons. Before work, the mess hall was virtually empty and we could order meals from a wider variety of choices. Want steak and eggs? The cook would make it for you. Want some strange concoction assembled from dinner leftovers and whatever? The cook would comply.
I also enjoyed getting off at 8 and going downtown to party. Through my life, I've often preferred partying in the morning rather than at night. In the bars, I found a more interesting assembly of drinkers then, with more interesting stories, than at night. You found the hardcore drinkers in the morning, the social drinkers at night. I found more material to steal as a writer from the former. I was able to mix with them without joining them.
Today I usually crash around 10, get up around 3, then crash again for an hour or two around 5 ... between 3 and 5 I do the day's first work.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
Off with H to read while she has her exercise class, then to see some art together and have lunch. An afternoon with the wife! What a concept.