I know I said I have problems with dystopian and post-apocalyptic sci-fi and that comment still stands. That said, Neill Blomkamp is doing some amazing things with sci-fi right now, and these little short films in particular. Go check out his latest, ‘Firebase,’ (not for kids under 14!) and then come back for comments:
I’m loving these short films – well shot, big ideas, unique execution. The best part about them is how Blomkamp is employing a bit of the old ‘pasta test’ when it comes to film-making: he’s throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. In a world where trying to convince studio execs that there’s a market for your original story, this idea incubator may be the most powerful tool of all.
We didn’t need to be told, but it’s nice to know anyway.
Long before we discussed the horror of Jar-Jar Binks, long before the world was aware of the impact of TPM on Jake Lloyd’s life, Ron Howard sent this blistering response to Newsweek’s review of Episode One. Jake Lloyd was one of the first major victims of a viral Internet story, and Howard tried to warn Newsweek, and all of us, about what was sure to follow. You can read more in the original article:
Just like Robin Williams, Henry Winkler and other Hollywood titans, Ron Howard proves he’s more than an artist; he’s a mensch. Mad respect to the master.
Oofa … wow.
There are studies out there that suggest a steady diet of bad news is bad for your mental health. Once you understand that, you can understand why I’m not in love with Neill Blomkamp’s visually stunning new short, ‘Rakka.’ If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here
Don’t get me wrong, I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic sci-fi. However, five minutes of this horror show and I’m skipping over to puppy and kitten land to mellow out. At some point, I stop being a storyteller and start being a human. I feel obligated to ask a very simple question: Where is this taking us?
It’s a legitimate question and one that the sci-fi community must seriously consider. We are what we eat, as it were, and we style ourselves as the arbiters of ‘what comes next.’ So if this is the vast majority of our cultural diet, what is the end game? Are we hoping people will wake up or are we simply wallowing in the horror that’s going to come? Is this supposed to motivate us to prevent night from falling?
To me, it’s a form of ‘set-up-to-fail syndrome.’ We’re only examining the worst aspects of humanity, instead of talking about what might happen if people actually start being the creatures they’re capable of being. I saw a ray of light in Wonder Woman a few weeks ago. We need more of that, and less of this.
At least, in this author’s humble opinion.
As I’m building Mesh, I remembered that I promised to use the ‘Pixar Rules of Storytelling.‘ I went back and started filling these out as though I was doing an essay exam and the results have been surprising. Let me share with you the results of that exercise. I’ll post these from time to time to help you understand where I’m coming from as this novel comes together.
I answered #14 here and now it’s time to answer question #4. For me and for Roman and for Mesh, it goes like this:
Once upon a time there was a geeky kid named Roman who was disabled. Every day, he dreamed of getting out of his wheelchair. One day, a famous school offered him a spot in their Advanced Projects program. They even gave him an experimental exoskeleton, helping him achieve his dream of being a normal kid again. Because of that, Roman worked very hard on a secret project that was supposed to save the world. Then one day, he discovered that the secret project had a dark side. He tried to make things better, but they only got worse, until finally he had to make a choice that would change his life forever.
Doing these Pixar storytelling exercises has been valuable for Mesh. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I want to these updates to be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest. Now it’s time to get back to work.
People know and love ‘American Graffiti’ but did you also know that it was Lucasfilm’s first project as a production company? The film is a classic for several reasons, but Ron Howard’s contribution gave the story an emotional weight it otherwise wouldn’t have had. Here was the kid who finally broke the ‘child actors can’t get work as adults’ curse. ‘Ronny’ Howard took his first steps toward ‘Ron’ Howard with Lucasfilm. Now, forty-four years later, Ron Howard is working on a Lucasfilm project. To me, it’s like the student coming back as the master, as a healer rather than an executioner. The circle is complete, and in a good way.
Personally, I’m happy for him. This move feels like good juju and I wish Howard, Lucasfilm and the project success.
Here’s the moment when I knew superhero movies have changed forever.
Before we get to that, let me just say this. Every time I announce my work, I feel like I split a fine line between spitting in the ocean and coming across as self-promoting. I got some suggestions on Reddit, and if you have something to add I’d love to hear it.
As I was saying, superhero movies have changed, and changed for the better. A few years from now, people are going to still be talking about this movie, and here is my take on why that will be. Mild spoiler alert – there’s a scene in Wonder Woman where Gal Gadot runs across No Man’s Land as part of her journey through the horror of World War One.
As she’s climbing a ladder to enter the battle, the camera gives us the standard detail shot. The lens lingers over her armored wrists, her tiara, and her boots. I sat there, watching, and instantly my cinematography/male brain goes “Here’s the booty shot, here’s the booty shot.” Then it happened; no booty shot. You know what I’m talking about: the booty shot. Wonder Woman has no booty shot.
Up ’til now, it was accepted that every major female character’s screen time would include some moment where the camera remains focused on their bum. That has to be annoying, not only to the actress but to every girl who sees this and the sloppy grins of every boy in the theater. It’s become a thing that every girl has grown to accept, to the point of parody. Objectification and unnecessary sexualization have been sore points in the sci-fi and superhero fan communities. Now here comes Wonder Woman (WW).
At the moment of battle, Gal Gadot climbs the ladder, the camera shows everything about her that tells us visually that she’s a strong, fierce warrior, and then poof, she’s off into the war zone. Not only is she fighting the bad guys on their terms, she’s defeating them. Everything we’ve come to expect from a Captain America or Iron Man, in Amazonian form. Booty shots are off the table, and the gloves are off for us.
I applaud Patty Jenkins for this decision. With two seconds of film, she turned Wonder Woman from another superhero movie into a culturally significant film. Movies have the power to motivate thought, action and change. At the crossroads between art and commerce, many compromises are made in the name of pragmatism. Toxic ideas fester in the gray areas between liberty and license. In one fell swoop, Wonder Woman resets the dials to zero. This film shows us that a movie with a female protagonist, helmed by an underknown actress, can succeed in Hollywood. This story shows that girls can be powerful, gentle, brave and resilient. But then, Wonder Woman gets even better.
Any other ‘girl-centric’ movie seems to sell us short. Case in point: the Ghostbusters reboot from last year, but there are other examples, too. Fight scenes that pull punches. Sexy misunderstandings. Tired speeches that try to marginalize the male characters instead of just being themselves. Wonder Woman pours gasoline on all of these cliches and drops the match.
We’re so invested in the story, the characters and the action that all of these issues fall away. As a former member of the IDF, Gadot puts a startling amount of realism into her fight scenes. WW exits the first act having navigated the treacherous worlds of sexuality, mother-daughter relationship dynamics, Mean Girls, and child bearing with equal amounts of strength and sincerity. Throughout the rest of the movie, WW is equally comfortable whether she’s throwing punches or pitching woo. When she isn’t throwing shade, she’s throwing tanks. You come out of the theater cheering for her as a person, and I think that is why Wonder Woman isn’t just a superhero movie.
Sitting in my chair, I was thinking about how readers and viewers *must* be invested in the story. This is an important point for me, especially if I want to be a successful storyteller myself. WW reminded me that if I’ve connected with the reader or viewer’s emotions, nothing else matters after that. Think about this: old blockbusters are famous for having plot holes and film goofs, but Star Wars is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. Jaws is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. WW connects with the audience’s emotions using grace, and style. One day, we’ll look back at this moment and realize that we were witnessing history.
In a world where we’re fighting to be ourselves, to be appreciated for who we are, WW steps out and does just that. It’s got heart, it’s got action, it’s got fun. A lesser film-maker or actress would allow themselves to be sucked into the pointless battle of gender issues. WW relegates those issues to the dustbin where they belong, saying: “watch the movie and have fun. That’s all you should have to worry about.”
After some helpful feedback at Imgur, I’m pleased to offer Search and Rescue as a free short story, along with The Superhero Shrink and Overly-Attached AI.
Search and Rescue is a simple story about a kid with a difficult job. He goes out in search of children who have been lost and are beyond the reach of other scouts. It isn’t easy to find kids no one else can find, but every rescue is important. Even this one.
Go visit ‘Free Short Stories’ and grab your copy now.
You can watch the action in progress on my Sci-Fi Short Stories Page