The jtkwriting Blog

So, basically I just blog about life, stories I've read, stories I write, movies I've seen and the plethora of oddities that run through my brain.

Category: movies

The Writer’s Alphabet vol.1: A is for Assholes

letter AHere is the first post for the intended new column, “The Writer’s Alphabet” wherein I will take a letter of the alphabet and pick a word to profile that starts with that letter and how that word applies in the writing world. So, why not start with “A”?

What can “A” stand for? Assholes, of course.

Assholes: Everyone has one and everyone can be one. They can be hilarious and they can be evil. Let’s cover two aspects of the asshole. First let’s discuss actual people you might work with, or you possibly being an asshole yourself. Then, we can discuss characters.

So, people/colleagues/you. When it comes to this aspect of asshole-ness some people might think that being an asshole will get you further in the industry than being meek and mild. I argue against both of these perceptions and suggest following the “No Asshole Rule” that Bill Lawrence had on his successful show Scrubs. It ran on NBC for 9 seasons so I think Bill knew what he was talking about with this one. With the “No Asshole Rule”, Bill said if you want to work on this show, no matter your resume or pedigree we will not tolerate being an asshole. No diva behaviour, and no complaining. And, again, Scrubs ran for 9 seasons, so I think this rule worked out. When it comes to working with or being an asshole, I suggest grinning and bearing it and never going back with the former and simply not doing it with the latter. In my fledgling amount of experience in the writing and entertainment industry the best advice I can come up with for being a good writer/performer/entertainer is first, cut out all of the bullshit that is holding you back and second, be professional. Being professional begets becoming a professional and thus, working with other professionals. Following that train of thought, being an asshole…

As for assholes and characters? The bigger the better. Why? Because the bigger the assholes the more conflict they create and conflict, even in minute amounts, is the life blood of every story.

Consider this: Jimmy wants to go for a picnic with Janey. Jimmy looks outside and sees that it is raining. Jimmy throws the picnic basket at the wall and spills mustard, wine and delicious cheese everywhere. Janey ponders what the hell he was thinking because “that was some damn delicious cheese damnit.” Jimmy yells at the weather and then at the cheese and then at Janey and storms off to pout while Janey stares at the mess he made and ponders all of her life decisions.

So we have Jimmy being an asshole in his reaction to the weather (also an asshole in a way), his yelling at everything and his pouting. This has created conflict with Janey and himself and if the weather is sentient in this story then he has also most likely angered it as well, because the weather is just doing its job. If Jimmy simply said, “Hey Janey, let’s be awesome and have a picnic in the living room and maybe play a round of twister afterwards”, we have no conflict, and no story beyond a good “campfire” moment…before the tornado comes through and blows both of these non-assholes half-way across the province.

And I think that covers it for the most part.

To conclude, Being an asshole: BAD! Writing assholes: GOOD!

Thanks for reading.

FALL 2014 PREVIEW!

Here is a very short list of things happening in fair Toronto in the next and best four months. Get out and enjoy! Yay art!

Toronto Independent Film Festival: September 4 – 13 @ Carlton Cinema

Toronto International Film Festival: September 4 – 14 @ Various Venues

The One More Night Festival: September 11 – 14 @ The Box

Queen West Art Crawl: September 12 – 14 @ Trinity Bellwoods Park

Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT) Fall Workshops: September 16 – December 17 @ 1137 Dupont Street

JFL42: September 18 – 27 @ Sony Centre and others

The Word on the Street: September 21 @ Queen’s Park

Culture Days: September 26 – 28 @ Various Venues

International Festival of Authors: October 23 – November 2 @ Harbourfront Centre

Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair: November 13 – 16 @ Metro Toronto Convention Centre

Robin Williams: A Light Through the Darkness

index Comedy is a light that shines through and can defeat the darkness of the human soul. For all the light that Robin Williams brought into our lives, it was his darkness that unfortunately took over in the moments that would ultimately lead to his untimely demise. Behind all great comedy and comedians there is a darkness that resonates and with all of Robin Williams performances there was always a darker element against which the comedy was played. It allowed him to shine brighter and impact us more. His talent allowed him to do that on the level he did. A lesser artist would not have moved us with the magnitude of Robin Williams.  His legacy is not one of darkness though, even in his more serious roles.

Behind the red nose of Patch Adams there was death surrounding the character and the fight for laughter and dignity. While we were whisked away to Neverland with the boy who eventually grew up, Hook played with the father-son dynamic and the possibility of family disintegration. Mrs. Doubtfire played with the same theme as Hook but gave us a Scottish Williams in drag. Good Morning Vietnam was one of his darkest comedies. Set against the growing conflict of the Vietnam War, Williams, as a radio DJ, brought laughter to those who weren’t even aware they needed it. There is one scene in particular where Williams and Forest Whitaker are stuck in traffic surrounded by soldiers fresh from the U.S. and on their way to battle. Williams entertains them and has them gasping with laughter. As the traffic lifts, the trucks roll out and rather than having a smile of joy, Williams expression is solemn knowing these young men were being trucked off to scenes of horror and, more than likely, their own deaths as Williams character was apprised to news that was being held back from the troops. In a turn of 3 minutes, the scene went from tense, to jubilant, to dire. In these films, laughter and comedy bounced off and burst through the caverns built by tribulation and melancholy, but it is because of that potential sadness that the laughter played the role and had the impact it did.

Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. With these films Williams showcased his depth beyond the iconic monologues. He showed us that it is possible for one scene and one actor to make us laugh, cry, yell in anger and cheer in celebration. He played characters with turbulent pasts that they are in the process of working themselves through when we see Williams inhabit them. In Dead Poets, we are inspired by John Keating and in Good Will Hunting we are inspired with Sean Maguire. They both teach by different methods and Williams depth and breadth as an actor allowed these films and these characters to succeed with their respective lessons as he hit the right beats at the right time on the spectrum of emotion that would have the most impact.

Whether it was through his stand-up or his various television and film roles, his performances elicited emotion, which all art is meant to do. Great art and great artists make us feel something. They make us feel something, ultimately, about ourselves. They make us want to change ourselves, even if it is just a different look to make us feel better internally. Robin Williams never directly motivated me, but he showed what someone can do when they throw away “the book of caring what people think” and  they go for it. For the sake of character, performance and sometimes simply to make someone laugh, Williams always went for it. I would say he was underrated with respect to the first two because we knew him mostly for his flamboyance and hilarity. Whereas George Carlin said things we wished we could, Robin Williams said things in a way we wished we could. For people of my generation, his movies were a big part of our childhood for reasons we can and will never be able to totally explain because I would argue we have forgotten the specifics of the matter. We can thank the better part of nostalgia for this. The better part being that which allows us to forget the specific but remember the general. The all encompassing feeling of joy, or simply of feeling, that Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire or Good Will Hunting gave us. Which is the very definition of beautiful.

From all accounts, Robin Williams lost his battle with addiction and depression and took his own life on August 11th, 2014. His smile will always give a reminder to a time when we smiled and laughed along with him. That smile also masked what must have been some very dark thoughts that led to his end. If you are struggling with darkness yourself, there is not much else to say other than don’t give up. Not because you owe anyone anything, but because the ultimate release you seek is not at the bottom of a pill or liquor bottle, nor is it at the end of blade, the nozzle of a gun, the bottom of a fall, or in the tight knot of a noose. The only real peace you can find is overcoming that struggle while you are still able to feel. For every valley there is a peak. In the moment before something drastic, reach out. There is always someone willing to talk even if that person is a stranger. Maybe that stranger is the better option than someone close. I don’t know who said it, but remember that suicidal feelings are the result of your body’s inability or lack of resources to manage or cope with the emotional or physical pain you are feeling. While it may seem like it is all in your head, it is not. It is a physical reaction and there are resources out there to help you make up for the ones, through no fault of your own, you have not developed yet. Reach out. Always.

Here are some resources:

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

Artists’ Health Centre

Michael Landsberg’s “Sick Not Weak” Campaign – an amazing thing. Also: #sicknotweak and follow Michael on twitter for daily updates.

Rest, hopefully, in peace Robin Williams. Thank you for your talent, your smile and your light.

Blogroll Updated!

I added some new links to the blogroll. Some are friends, others acquaintances, and some aren’t even people! All are talented and entertaining.

The new additions:

Marcus Thomas; Tracey Beltrano; Christina Walkinshaw; Nicole Stamp; The Punnery by Olga Kwak; Yehuda Fisher; Dahlia Katz; Beer in a Glass Productions; Fresh Baked Entertainment; The Brett Heard Comedy Development Workshop; Toronto Independent Film Festival; International Festival of Authors; John Green; Jonathan Tropper; Luminato Festival; Stephen King; Steven Pressfield; SummerWorks; The Word on the Street; AND, Toronto Fringe Festival!

 

Psychology Today

Here’s a couple articles I came across that hold water with respect to writing and the creative process. Check ‘em out!

Reinvent Yourself

Your Future Self Is…

Brett Heard

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Brett Heard of Fresh Baked Entertainment is doing things right. In recent months I have had the pleasure of viewing two of Brett’s collaborations -“See You Next Tuesday” and “Parent Teacher” – wherein Brett takes material that has been workshopped with local Toronto artists and turns it into a short film for our pleasure. These shorts came out of The Comedy Development Workshop with Brett Heard and I will advise you to click on the embedded link for all the information you need about what Brett does specifically (and his other projects) as I fear I will not do it the justice it deserves.

What I want to speak about is how I love what Brett is doing. The workshop specifically, but also the general idea behind it is inspiring. I love that Brett is fostering local talent and helping make the creative dreams of both emerging and established artists come to the screen. This is vital for the development of creative people but also for creativity in general, and Toronto’s culture. To provide a safe space for people to perform with an intended, produced outcome, is something that benefits everyone, both directly and indirectly. The film you watch tomorrow might just have been incubated in a workshop such as Brett’s.

If you want to perform and meet like-minded creative people, sign up for Brett’s workshop. The hardest part of the process is putting your name in the hat. I have seen the results of two of his previous classes and by signing up you will be part of a great tradition. You will also have a lot of fun…and who doesn’t like that???

Please see the embedded links above and also these below:

Brett’s Twitter

The Comedy Development Workshop on Facebook

Character vs. Plot

Focus on character over plot. I think this is the oldest, and most over-used, writing advice, besides ye olde nugget of, “if you want to be a writer then you need to write and everything else takes care of itself.” But it’s true. Both are true. Once you have committed to writing, what’s next? Create compelling characters. Obviously plot matters, but depending on who you listen to, there are anywhere from 3 to 33 story arcs. That’s really about it. So great stories come from the infinite amount of characters that can be created. Yes, one character might be only slightly different from another because they carry an old photograph in their wallet instead of a cut out from the newspaper, but that one difference could mean everything, depending on how you use it.

Character(s) beget plot(s). What one character does in one story could and should be completely different from what another character would do in the same story. Thus, you might have the same plot but it changes with what the characters decide to do.

Have you ever read or watched a story and felt some dissonence about a character’s decision? I would argue that is because the character(s) acted outside of their established pattern of behaviour for the sake of saving the plot. The elements of the story don’t jive, thus leaving the reader or viewer ill-at-ease with the story they are experiencing. The writer sacrificed the beauty of his or her original character for the contrived beauty of the unoriginal plot. There are also many other reasons why the story wasn’t viewed favourably, and I would argue that a lot of those have to do with the perspective of the reader/viewer, but I think the majority of the time it is because the plot drove the characters as opposed to the characters – the living and breathing aspects of the story – driving the plot.

And that’s all I really have to say about that. At least until the next time I post about it in 2015.

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