Saturday, August 30, 2008

If it’s good enough for Pixar...

Hey everybody,

I was listening to a podcast on a local show called The Treatment by host Elvis Mitchell. He interviews people in the film industry. So it’s not publishing per se, but his show is sometimes it’s really amazing in terms of the art of storytelling. In his interview with Andrew Stanton, one of the creators of Wall-E, one of the most inspiring things Andrew said was that it was four years of failures and creative mistakes. So if making mistakes and moving on to the artistic successes is part of the process for an outfit like Pixar, that’s pretty inspiring. Check out the link above to listen to the entire interview.

Another inspiring story is John Favreau’s adaptation of “Zathura” from picture book to film. The original story is a sequel by Chris Van Allsburg’s “Jumanji” also a picture book that became a film. The bare bones suggested by Chris’ story are brilliantly fleshed out in a script by David Koepp. Capitalizing on an antagonistic sibling rivalry set against a fantastical background, what is simple on the page becomes complex in the script story. It just goes to show you that if you pull on the yarn of a story, you can weave it into some great stuff.

Last on my list of inspiring adaptations is screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s novel-to-film work on Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne. King has said it’s one of his favorite adaptations. Though the film did not do well critically or commercially, it is one of King’s most somber, realistic, moving, and frightening stories. From its trappings of a family melt-down on an island in Maine, the book is told in first person by the titular protagonist, the battle ax Dolores Claiborne herself. But the script takes a spare two paragraphs that mention Dolores’ daughter and uses that as a springboard for one of the thriller genre’s most complex mother-daughter relationships. While Taylor Hackford’s masterful direction, and the haunting cinematography Gabriel Beristain illuminate the darkest corners of a family implosion (during an eclipse no less), it is Gilroy’s genius that is the vaulting point from which all that creativity followed.

I was living in New York when I first saw the film (3 times at the then World Wide Plaza’s dollar theater). So obsessed with the film’s effect, I called Gilroy after finding his number in the phone book. He was gracious enough to chat with me for a few minutes and told me that he credits a background in journalism with his spare, economical style. Much like the Michelangelo analogy you hear a lot (‘chip away everything that is NOT the sculpture’) he wrote to emphasize what would work on screen. A line-by-line study of the script that two friends and I undertook one afternoon in LA a few years later showed that almost every line of dialogue overturns, contradicts, or illuminates the one before (not a wasted line in the script).

The story also has the most seamless set of flashbacks (one flashback within another) I have ever seen. While I’m sure I’m a little gaga over this particular story and adaptation, I’m sure that even if you don’t become a cultist like me, you’ll appreciate a rich script borne of two simple paragraphs of a novel in which the main character had no foil to help her tell her story. Stephen King said of the final product that he wished he’d thought of the angle himself.

The examples above are all fiction-to-film adaptations, which is not what we’re writing. But the revision process often involves re-examining your original position, finding a new one, and proceeding with a better version than your first (or 2nd, or 3rd!) draft. So take inspiration from some of the most entertaining stories I’ve seen that weren’t afraid to fail miserably, or radically expand a story, or radically depart from a story. Writing is re-writing.

Now get back to writing!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Signs of Apocalypse

Sliced apples.

Looks like Sunkist has been comparing apples to oranges. On the same day that I was busy blogging about the pre-sliced apple phenomenon, Sunkist announced that it was launching a joint venture with Taylor Farms of Salinas to market pre-sliced Sunkist fruits to grocers, schools and fast-food chains.

Taylor Farms sells more than $750 million in pre-packaged lettuce and vegetables to McDonald's, Subway, Burger King, Red Lobster, and the Olive Garden. Bruce Taylor, CEO of Taylor Farms, predicts the sliced-fruit venture could reach sales of several hundred million dollars in the next two years.

“We think there is a tremendous opportunity for fruit at the retail level as a consumer snack. It could be a healthy alternative to what people eat today,” Taylor told the Los Angeles Times.

Sunkist's Chief Executive, Jeff Gargiulo, told the Times that the idea was to make eating fruit as simple as munching on potato chips. “Not even my kids will peel an orange.”

“If you're too lazy to peel your own fruit, get scurvy and die,” was Bill Maher's reaction on last Friday's HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher. “Hoping to appeal to teenagers who say they're too busy to peel oranges,” Maher reported, “Sunkist is introducing a new pre-cut, pre-peeled snack version. Not to be outdone, Baskin Robbins has created a new, coneless ice cream that your mother pre-chews and spits down your throat.”

Now Get Back To Work.