American Vandal and a Celebration of Social Media

This post discusses key plot points from the second (and very good) season of American Vandal. Do yourself a favor and watch both seasons on Netflix. Oh, um, also, harsh language incoming.

I can’t take anyone in my generation seriously
Everyone is completely fake
Instagram filters.
Snapchat filters.
THEY’RE NOT FUCKING FILTERS
THEY’RE MASKS
Stop pretending you’re happy
I know you’re as fucked up as me

If the Turd Burglar, the villain of American Vandal season 2, has a manifesto it’s those words he posts on Reddit. Maybe adding an, “I’ll prove you’re all full of shit.” They become obsessed with tearing down the student body of St. Bernadine High School and achieve that goal by spiking the cafeteria lemonade with laxatives. Basically the whole school shits themselves at lunch and then, when all of the chaos settled, the Turd Burglar tagged everyone in Instagram posts of The Brownout.

For the incredibly realistically portrayed teens of American Vandal the scariest aspect of this crime isn’t just the poop, but the hijacking of their social media personas. Apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are tools they can use to interact with the world online, but they get to control how they appear on those platforms. They try on different personas or masks. For reference:

breakfast-club-social-media

But the Turd Burglar not only took that control away, they mocked everyone for using those identities in the first place. It’s true that it can be easy to indict millennials or Gen Z for their reliance on the internet, but instead American Vandal takes a wholly different approach. I would just like to transcribe the monologue Peter gives in the finale:

We’re the first generation that gets to live twice. Our existences are simultaneously experienced and curated. Presented. Packaged. Polished for our own protection. Digital fortresses made of bits, bytes, and pixels. Walls made of zeroes and ones. [Redacted] referred to these digital walls as masks, and he created the Turd Burglar to prove that behind them, we’re all full of shit. It would be easy to dismiss his messages, as the ramblings of a madman, if there wasn’t so much truth to them. We do all create versions of ourselves to appear to be the curators of our own stories, to appear to be in the driver’s seat of our own lives.

But pretending doesn’t make us plastic. Imagination is what makes us human. It allows us to figure out which version of ourselves fits best.

We’re not the worst generation. We’re just the most exposed. We’re living in a constant state of feedback. And judgement. So maybe the masks are a tool to survive the time. Maybe they provide a thin layer of protection. A place to grow, discover, reinvent. the important part is having people who know you without the mask. And being happy with who you are beneath it.

I often joke that I didn’t “finish cooking” until near the end of college. There’s a certain amount of reinvention that comes with the territory of higher education. You move out of your hometown and leave behind any preconceived notions about yourself. Every new class, club, and dorm lets you try out a slightly different version of yourself until you find the one that “fits best.” Since I barely used social media other than Facebook until after college, it took me a while to find myself.

For Gen Z, their whole world is online, but it means they get to find themselves so much faster than any generation has in the past. They can follow and learn from celebrities or influencers they respect. They get to interact with people outside of their school and try on those different masks while they grow up. These kids are going to know themselves better than we ever could.

They’re growing up faster than any generation has before. And yeah, the internet is a dangerous place these days. It’s pretty shitty. But if anyone can figure out how to survive there it’s them. Especially if they have those friends they can take their masks off around.

-JP

PS, I wonder how Dylan Maxwell is doing.

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Quarter Life Crisis – The Three Dueling Identities of Power Rangers

On Tuesday, August 28th 2018, Power Rangers turns 25 years old. Like all millennials, at this age the franchise finds itself in a weird place. Depending on who it is interacting with, Power Rangers presents itself very differently. In fact there are currently three different versions of the series.

What makes Power Rangers different on TV vs film or in the comics? What does it mean that the franchise can’t settle on a consistent version of itself at this point in its existence? Does the fact that I am writing about this say more about my own quarter life crisis than Power Ranger’s? NO. SHUT UP.

I for one am hard pressed to find good intelligent writing about Power Rangers, so I thought I would step up to the plate to investigate these three identities and discuss them.

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Power Rangers on TV

After all these years the TV version of Power Rangers is the same as it ever was, ridiculous as hell. The current iteration of the series is called Power Rangers: Ninja Steel and it’s about a bunch of teens who build morphers and weapons with alien metal so they can fight an evil invading space reality competition TV show. Seriously. One of them is also a cowboy ninja power ranger touring country singer.

The basis of the show is the same as it ever was too, a toy marketing driven action show made on a shoe-string budget re-appropriating footage from the Japanese series from which it is based. It is one of the last of its kind, a relic from the rules of the 80s when every big cartoon was made to sell toys. Every episode was originally the same, the kids play in the park, a monster attacks, the kids morph and beat it up, it gets big, they get in their giant robot zords and beat it up again. The series has grown to be more plot heavy, with new heroes and villains each season, but the basics haven’t changed. It is a kids show, with uncomplicated morality and heaping sense of fun.

On TV the ranger teams remain as diverse as ever, but in a way that someone’s ethnicity has absolutely nothing to do with who they are. It doesn’t matter if they are black, white, asian, hispanic, or anything else. None of that makes up their identity, they are only identified as a teenager (generally). On the other hand, any time a character has an accent of some kind that does become a defining part of their identity. Multiple rangers with New Zealand accents tell immigrant stories, and the one Scottish ranger, when literally asked how he identifies himself, yells that he is Scottish and then fights to bagpipe music. It’s amazing.

Because Power Rangers is made up of American footage spliced with Japanese suit actor and monster scenes, it has a hard time establishing it’s own identity. The series has a very low budget and making an entire episode with american footage is extremely costly. There’s also the question of how much a season should distance itself from its Japanese equivalent. A lot of fans want to see the same show but with an American cast, and sometimes that is for the best. But some of the best seasons used their footage as a jumping off point to tell a completely different story. Now Power Rangers has two different sets of fans who want entirely different things from the series.

Luckily, Power Rangers knows it doesn’t really matter what those fans think. They are adults, and they’re simply not who the show is for. Power Rangers on TV is still aimed primarily at kids. That’s why they ignore their own continuity (except when celebrating an anniversary), so the show can eternally be brand new to a brand new audience.

power-rangers-movie

Power Rangers on Film

Last year Lionsgate swung big with a new cinematic interpretation of the Power Rangers, and their identity is fascinating. Director Dean Israelite and writers John Gatins, Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless, and Michele & Kieran Mulroney sought to find something real inside the glitz and cheesiness of the original series. They made a toy commercial into a story about teenagers finding themselves and meaningful friendships. The movie is not entirely successful in this endeavor, but I applaud it for the attempt.

This version of Power Rangers doesn’t even get into the suits and zords until the final half hour of the film, making the first hour and a half of the movie more of a teenage drama than a superhero movie. This balance isn’t exactly a strength plot-wise, but it says a lot about how the movie wants to be seen. This version of Power Rangers is grown up and meditative, with excellent chemistry among its cast. It also has the money to make the effets, suits, and zords look truly alien. Personally I think it made those designs overly busy, but hey to each their own.

The new cinematic Power Rangers are also the most meaningfully diverse version of the team ever. Billy isn’t just Black, he’s on the spectrum, and the film doesn’t treat that as a weakness but as something wonderful and lovable. It might even be his greatest strength. Zack is Chinese-American and speaks Chinese at home, his mobile home, with his mother. Trini is identifiably queer, even if they never specify whether she is gay or bisexual, that’s more than we’ve ever seen from the series before. The characters cross a sexual, class, and mental spectrum and it is a crime that nobody is talking about how big of a deal that is alone.

Without having to adhere to footage from another TV series, it’s interesting that this Power Rangers chooses to think smaller instead of larger. The story it tells doesn’t deviate very far from the original series, despite the huge opportunity to change everything. The movie cares a lot about how it is perceived. It wants to be taken seriously, as a legit entry into the superhero canon, and not a shameless cash in. That’s an uphill battle, one that I initially took umbrage with in its marketing campaign.

The Power Rangers movie was a gamble, and I’m not sure it paid off. The movie didn’t do very well in the US or China, but there is still talk of a sequel and I genuinely hope they make one. There are good bones here, and I hope they get to build on them.

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Power Rangers in Comics

The new ongoing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic started in 2016 and transplanted the show’s original team into modern day with a story set shortly after the Green Ranger joined the team. Writer Kyle Higgens has stated that, when writing the series, he based it off how he remembered the show and not what it actually was. The comic is massive in scale, a war between good and evil, and most importantly it understands something I’ve been arguing for years; Power Rangers is already a shared universe on par with the MCU, if only we would tap into it.

This series draws it’s identity from the lore of the TV series, and more specifically the first real story it ever told, the birth of the evil green ranger. That character, Tommy Oliver, defines Power Rangers for a large portion of the audience, and the comics pick up right after he turns good and joins the team. From there the story takes a hard turn into a new continuity wherein the rangers encounter a version of Tommy who chose to stay evil, and he declares war on every version of the Power Rangers we’ve seen for the past 25 years. This event is called Shattered Grid.

This is the Infinity War of Power Rangers, with every team ever meeting in their prime and fighting for their very lives against this threat. It’s desperate and epic and I’ve never seen anything like it before with these characters. That’s not to say the series loses track of the character moments though! Across Power Rangers and Go Go Power Rangers, which is set in the earliest days of the series, we see Jason learn to be a leader, Kim deal with her parents’ divorce, and Billy debate if he could be of more use giving his powers to someone else. It sits comfortably between the heaviness of the movie and the lightness of the show.

Once this event ends, a new writer will be taking over the series with a new ranger team made up of members from different eras. This means if the identity of the comics up until now was about giving the original power rangers the scale of adventures we always wanted, it’s about to become something entirely different. And that’s exciting!

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Change is Coming

It’s not just the comics that are about to change. The entire brand of Power Rangers was recently acquired by Hasbro. For the first time ever the next Power Rangers TV season is going back to a version of the Japanese series from which it’s sourced they previously skipped. They are even starting talks about making a sequel to the recent movie. This could change all of these identities in the years to come, but what fascinates me most of all is that they are choosing to maintain all three and not unify them all.

It would be so easy to pick one and force the others to bend to it, but I think it’s actually smarter to maintain all three. Each identity plays to a different kind of person and can bring them to the franchise. It’s not so different from Marvel or DC, where the comics are different than the movies (and in DC’s case the movies are even in different worlds than the TV series). It widens their audience. For Power Rangers, little kids can grow up with the show, grow up to appreciate the movie, and then come back to the comics for the kid inside.

That’s what happened to me, and I couldn’t be happier.

-JP

PS, there is a fourth version of Power Rangers. An official twitch streaming role playing game called Power Rangers: Hyperforce. I just don’t watch it.

Robo Cam and New Technology in Storytelling

Last weekend I volunteered at a music festival I have been attending my entire life with my family. We all volunteer with the video crew where our jobs include running one of four cameras during an act’s set, shading for those cameras, or directing those cameras from the video truck. Every year is basically the same for us with new upgrades coming incrementally as time goes on. When the video crew began nearly forty years ago they only had two cameras, now this year we finally introduced a fifth camera. ROBO CAM.

Robo Cam is one we set up further away from the stage that could be controlled with a joystick from back in the video truck. We can pre-set several angles as well so you just hit a button and robo cam gets the same specific shot. If this is a little confusing let me head that off by saying robo cam is new and different and I was the first director to use it in the crew last weekend.

Before the act started my father, the co-head of the video crew, dropped in to lay down some advice for me. He said, “yes robo cam is new and exciting, but don’t get caught up in it.” He said it to every director that worked that day and what he meant was simple. Don’t distract yourself from directing by playing with that camera, do what you normally do but with a new tool in case you need it.

Live video production already carries many lessons that can apply to narrative storytelling. In live video you cut to the camera covering whatever instrument is most important at that time, just like how you would edit for whatever changes the context of the scene. But what happens a lot in narrative film is that a new technology comes out and in the wrong hands it takes over a movie.

CGI replaced miniatures work, practical blood and explosion effects, even puppetry or prosthetic. There are plenty of directors that see this new technology as something to play with, but they lose sight of basic filmmaking in pursuit of this. Even worse, many see new technology as a shortcut to save themselves time and money, and more often than not that view has a detrimental effect on their work.

When you direct live video, you are the only one who can see all four cameras at once, which means you have to communicate to them when they have a shot you want, when they are accidentally covering them same thing as another camera, and when they are (or are about to be) on the air. Last weekend I had a moment where every individual camera had a good shot; a close-up of the singer, of his hands strumming his guitar, the upper half of his body, his toe tapping, and I wanted to use all of them but I needed to get to a wide shot to reorient the audience before delving back into these tighter shots. That was the first time I used robo cam.

Robo cam is great for getting out of little jams like that, or for giving all of the cameras a break so they can each find something new, but you have to use it when you need it. The same goes for new technology in filmmaking. It’s meant to augment the way we’ve always done things, not replace it entirely.

I haven’t been directing live video long, but I’ve been around it my entire life. I haven’t directed anything narrative at all, but I intend to use every lesson I’ve absorbed through being around it to do the best work I can some day. And when something new and exciting comes around I’ll remember not to get caught up in it.

-JP

PS, some day all of the cameras might be robo cams, but by then we’ll be too late to stop the robo apocalypse.

 

“I’ll Figure It Out” -The Writing of Mission: Impossible

I’ve been wanting to write about Mission: Impossible for a few weeks now. The hype was building up for Fallout but I couldn’t really think of anything to add to the greater cultural conversation. Then, on Saturday, I actually got to see Mission: Impossible – Fallout. The movie is, to put it simply, the Mad Max: Fury Road of spy movies. Fallout is a staggering achievement of film making, and I finally know what I want to talk about.

There are plenty of interviews with the cast and writer director Christopher McQuarrie where they talk about how this movie began without a script. That’s a hell of a challenge to figure out your story as you tell it and to make it as cohesive as it turned out. But then I remembered another story from when Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was in production. They had to pause production because they needed time to figure out how to end the movie. And again, thinking back further, McQuarrie got his start in M:I when he was brought on to fix some script problems on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. All of these latter day Missions: Impossible make up their stories as they go, which shouldn’t work, but it does. They’re all across the board better than the earlier ones. So let’s talk about why.

Mission: Impossible has become a practical stunt driven franchise. Tom Cruise has climbed the Burj Khalifa, held onto the side of a plane as it took off, and now straight up HALO jumped on camera for all of us. A lot of those stunts involve teaching Tom Cruise a new skill, like holding his breath for six minutes (jesus christ) and learning to pilot a helicopter (this man is in his fifties), which means that time is built into the production. They come into the movie with a plan for these stunts and set pieces and then, once they’ve figured out what those are, they write the script to incorporate them.

Again. This shouldn’t work. And often times it leads to odd beats that don’t quite work once you think about them. The best example of this in Ghost Protocol where one barely named villain whips off a mask to reveal he’s the other barely named villain for no reason. From what I understand originally there was meant to be much more mystery in Ghost Protocol, but when Christopher McQuarrie came in as script doctor he made everything more straight forward and urgent. That urgency comes from throwing away traditional story structure entirely.

You know what a three act structure looks like:

three-act-structure_1

Missions: Impossibles I, II, and III all follow a three act structure, but the newer ones have been using something closer to a Fichtean Curve:

Fichtean

Essentially, a Fichtean Curve is a story built out of mini rising actions, climaxes, and falling actions before cycling over again and building off of each other. Mission: Impossible – Fallout does this perfectly. A story beat will start with the characters identifying what they need and how to get it, they then go through a big set piece that showcases practical stunt work and, once they get to what they need, something throws all of the characters off balance before they jump into the next set piece.

It’s the movie version of tossing someone a snow globe so they can shake it and toss it to the next person. The name of the game is never letting the snow settle.

Without a script they can figure out those emotional beats that throw everything off balance as you go. The past couple Missions: Impossible all featured scenes where our heroes discuss their next plan while in a car on their way to it. I thought that was just an odd coincidence until I read this Hollywood Reporter interview with Christopher McQuarrie where he reveals they do that on purpose so they can film them on a green screen and reshoot them throughout production. Just in case they want to come back and change the context around the next set piece.

The end result of the Fichtean structure on Fallout is that the entire movie maintains a breathless quality that leaves you with an adrenaline rush long after walking out of the theater. It’s something we could use a lot more of in summer blockbusters, and it’s certainly something that’s staying with me as I approach my own writing.

-JP

PS, so if/when Tom Cruise dies making one of these movies, do we think it’s in his contract that they have to incorporate that into the story and finish the movie?

What the Hell is Going on Deep Underground in the MCU?

There’s something afoot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’m not talking about how half of everyone and everything is dead now including all the puppies. The MCU may be 20 movies deep but it also contains 11 TV series. Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, The Punisher, Inhumans (nothing to see here), Runaways, and now Cloak & Dagger. And there’s a common thread running through them now too.

I’m not asking you to watch all those shows. I know that’s a lot of extra Marvel hours and their quality is much more inconsistent than the movies. But I have watched nearly all of them, and something keeps coming up over and over. If it were in this many comic books it would be a sign that a major event was coming and I just really want to talk about it.

The villains are all after something deep underground.

Exhibit A: Daredevil, The Defenders

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In Daredevil, blind lawyer Matt Murdock’s other senses are so powerful that he can use them and his own incredible agility to defend the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. After defeating(?) The Punisher, Matt’s ex-girlfriend Elektra asks him to help her investigate a ninja organization called The Hand. This leads them to a building with a massive mysterious hole in the ground.

They toss something into it to test it’s depth and they never hear it reach the bottom. Then ninjas attack, they run away, yadda yadda yadda, Elektra dies and they don’t really come back around to the hole. That is, until about a year later when The Hand has built an entire office building on top of the hole in the ground. Matt meets Jessica Jones, a Private Investigator with super strength, Luke Cage, the bullet proof protector of Harlem, and Danny Rand, the most infuriatingly annoying billionaire kung-fu master with a glowing super hand in the world. Together they discover The Hand is burrowing down to replenish the “substance” that makes them immortal. But if they get to it, it’ll destroy New York City.

It’s dragons. Or dragon bones? Look, the villain stuff isn’t very compelling or good in The Defenders. You’re mostly there to see Jessica Jones roll her eyes at everything I’ve been talking about for two paragraphs. But at the bottom of the pit is basically a dragon graveyard and it looks like The Hand is trying to take the bones to make their substance. Anyway, the Defenders collapse the building on top of the hole and ending the threat. A weakness The Hand wouldn’t have if they just kept it as a warehouse around the hole.

So if there’s a dragon graveyard beneath New York, how does that connect to…

Exhibit B: Runaways

marvels-runaways-episode-doomsday-3

In Runaways, five LA teenagers (with attitude?) discover their parents are of a murder cult. But, like, a sci-fi murder cult called The Pride where each family has their own gimmick or powers. From left to right, Karolina discovers she has disco light powers and can fly, Molly has super strength, Alex doesn’t really get a power but he does have great hair, Chase builds fire blasting gauntlets called fistigons, Gert has a psychic connection with a velociraptor, and Nico can cast spells with a magic staff.

They turn against their parents and learn that they all work for that guy who played Doctor Doom in that first Fantastic Four movie. With their skills combined, they constructed a drill to reach something deep underground. However, the teens get to the drill, stop it, fight their parents, and finally, mercifully, RUN AWAY.

We don’t know what The Pride is after beneath Los Angeles. Sure, it could be dragon bones, it could be something alien (Karolina’s parents are aliens), or if it follows the comics it could be a couple six toed giants who intend on destroying the Earth. We don’t know!

But then with a mystery something beneath LA and a dragon graveyard under New York, does that have anything to do with…

Exhibit C: Agents of SHIELD

8-graviton_absorbs_gravitonium

Five seasons in, the Agents of SHIELD who just couldn’t stay retired after Captain America shut the organization down in Winter Soldier got shanghaied to the future. In that time, the Earth was broken apart and what was left of humanity mined the remnants of the planet for alien overlords. They manage to find a way back to the present, but every decision they made from there on was made with the knowledge that it could lead them closer to this future.

Their adventures bring them to a substance from season one called gravitonium. Nathan Petrelli from Heroes winds up absorbing a whole load of it and gaining the power to control gravity. In order to stop Thanos (yeah that’s also happening), he tries to dig more Gravitonium out from under Chicago. Luckily SHIELD stops him from breaking the entire planet apart in time. Unluckily, that future they prevented never went through a Thanos snap. So you win some you lose some.

So not only is there a whole load of gravitonium beneath Chicago, there’s more of it all over deep underground. Gravitonium’s only use is, well, disrupting gravity and apparently absorbing people’s consciousnesses. It’s real weird, but it all worked on a character level so I can’t fault the show. (Agents of SHIELD is the best Marvel show don’t @ me.)

So there’s a large deposit of Gravitonium under Chicago and elsewhere under the Earth, some strange in the neighborhood beneath LA, that dragon graveyard deep below New York, but then is any of that related to…

Exhibit D: Cloak & Dagger

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Cloak & Dagger, currently airing on Freeform, begins with two eight-year-olds named Tandy and Tyrone who live in New Orleans. An oil rig from the Roxxon Corporation (also mentioned in Iron Man 3 and Agent Carter) blows up just off shore, distracting Tandy’s dad on the road enough to get them in an accident that throws them into the water, and shocking a cop enough to shoot Tyrone’s brother who he dives in to save. Something in the tanker explodes and, when Tandy and Tyrone meet again eight years later, superpowers awaken between them.

Tandy’s investigation into Roxxon (her dad helped build the oil rig) has revealed that they weren’t digging for oil at all, but some new and more powerful energy source. We don’t know much about it, but burns “ten times better than oil and is twice as hot.” However, since the disaster Roxxon has been covering the whole mess up. we don’t know if they still want this energy source or if they want to cut their losses and move on.

That makes for the second mystery thing deep underground on the list. It’s also unlikely we will find out in the near future. Cloak & Dagger as a series is more concerned with people and grief. Tyrone wants to convict the cop that killed his brother and Tandy wants to redeem her father’s legacy, maybe also find a stable place to live. I can’t even point to a comic series for this since they’ve changed so much from the source material/ It’s all uncharted territory and also a very good show.

This leaves us with dragon bones beneath New York, something beneath LA, Gravitonuim beneath Chicago and various, and a mystery fuel beneath New Orleans. Oh! And Vibranium beneath Wakanda!

Conclusion: What the Hell is Going on Deep Underground

The nerdiest part of me wants to believe there’s a plan, that Marvel is using the TV side of things to build to something in the next phase or so. Like there’s something in the core of the Earth that’ll threaten the world or something about our planet being made by The Builders and they planned for so many sources of superpowers down there.

But let’s be honest, this is all just a coincidence. Four different writers’ rooms writing shows on four different channels and streaming services thought of ideas completely independently. Nobody at the top of Marvel noticed and the world will spin on and that’s fine. Occam’s razor and all that.

Or maybe it’s all dragon bones.

-JP

PS, wow I didn’t realize how long it’s been since my last post here. In this case I have legitimately been inspired and writing elsewhere but I should do better. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a piece, lose sight of it, and think of it as non-relevant by the time it comes up again. Maybe I need to shut that voice up? As always I’ll try to do better.

A Transcendent Moment

We stood on the beach and felt the warm water run over our feet. From here on the island we could see the bright lights from the mainland, and the storm rolling over it onto the ocean. My mind hearkened back to my time as a lifeguard, to being told the sight of lightning or thunder meant to stay out of the water. But the storm was far away now, and the only reason we could see it was because we could just see such a great distance here. Throwing caution to the wind, we stepped into the water.

As we swam about, she told us to look at our hands while they moved. I couldn’t quite process what I was seeing at first. My hands moved and bubbles scattered around them, only they couldn’t be bubbles. They didn’t come up to the surface and they became harder to see when I turned toward the well lit shore. She told us they were bio-luminescent plankton. Every time we moved them, their bodies lit up, and we were surrounded by them. He swam to shore, we swam out further, and then he put the lights on the beach out and we truly began to see.

I could see my legs from the glow around them as they kicked, blue light erupted around every movement of my arms. Risking my eyes I dropped underwater, opened them, and simply spun. The whole ocean glowed around me. He rejoined us and we wasted all of our energy swimming around in glowing plankton. Eventually we laid back to float in the water, impossibly buoyant.

The clouds were rolling in, blocking out the stars, but a single light shimmered through and passed over us. He figured out what it was, too close to be a planet or star but large enough to be visible. The International Space Station passed over us.

We floated there and I thought about the scale of the universe. We are so small in all of space, simple clouds block our view of that infinite expanse until all we can see is our one small contribution to it. Those clouds belong to a storm, an uncontrollable force of nature that will send us running for our rooms in a matter of hours. And yet it’s not so different from us, plunging our hands through a mass of plankton, scattering them wildly and watching them go. I wanted to freeze that transcendent moment in time and space so I could return to it at any time.

I guess the best I can do is write it down so I never forget it.

-JP

PS, but also we all totally swallowed a ton of that plankton while we swam. LOL

The Page One Rewrite

Back in college I took several different screenwriting courses; Screenwriting I, Screenwriting II, Screenwriting Masterclass, and Graduate Level Screenwriting (I apologize to everyone who dealt with my ego during that last semester). During Screenwriting II the class was tasked with writing a ~30 page short script. I came up with a science fiction idea where older people could have their consciousness transferred into a younger body. It ended with the main character meeting the family of the younger man who used to inhabit his new body. I felt like I really had something there, and I still do considering they recently made that movie with Ben Kinglsy and Ryan Reynolds.

But that’s beside the point.

For a number of reasons the script wasn’t coming together and I realized it was because the twist ending was all I had. The 20 odd pages beforehand were all preamble and honestly really boring. So in the eleventh hour I scrapped everything and rewrote the script from page one, centering the twist early in the story so the rest of the script dealt with the fallout of that revelation.

Not only did this save my story, my professor commended me on being so willing to throw out the elements of the story that weren’t working and try something different. I felt satisfied, but figured I wouldn’t have to do something so drastic in the future.

Narrator: He would.

Somehow, despite my best efforts, this has become a regular part of my writing process. Without fail, one or two drafts in I will throw out everything I had and cherry pick the few elements that worked to rebuild the story around those beats. Sometimes this happens several times, with each new rewrite refining what works until finally the essence of the original idea forms a good story.

One of my favorite scripts I’ve written is about four friends and their giant fighting robot competing in a robot fighting tournament, and it started as a post-apocalyptic Gundam knock-off.

It’s frustrating, since the first draft is supposed to be the hard part and you should only have to refine from there, that I essentially have to write multiple first drafts before I get where I want to be. But when the new draft is invariably better than what came before it’s always worth it. I just wind up angry with myself for not getting it right the first time.

But that’s the point. Writing is a process, and this has become a central part of mine. Sometimes an idea never comes together no matter how much retooling I do. More often I’ll run out of energy on an idea and put it aside until my experience and skill catches up to the point that I’ll be more adept to handle it.

I’ve mentioned this to some of my other writer friends and, though all of them have had to do a page one rewrite in the past, none of them have to do it in every script they write. Which leaves me wondering if there’s something wrong with me or my approach to writing. Eventually the idea comes together, but it always takes longer because of the additional time each rewrite takes and if I want to do this professionally I won’t have that kind of time.

Maybe I’m overthinking my situation. Maybe I should be shopping around my outlines (more simplistic versions of the story) for peer review so I can catch my problems earlier in the process. Maybe I should get better at finding three things to put into lists.

There’s nothing more satisfying than typing THE END on the last page of a script and nothing more frustrating than completely losing those two words. But when the end result is a far better story, is all that trouble worth it?

(Hmm. This post isn’t quite working. I should rewrite it!)

-JP

PS, The idea that never came together was the one I tried to write in the Grad level class. It was essentially Confederate, the one the Game of Thrones guys want to make for HBO. To be fair I had two script ideas and the class voted for that one, but at this point I’m glad I never got it to work.