Tag Archives: movies

No “Hack Jobs” Allowed

MTMTE3When a new movie comes out, or a new toyline releases, or a new TV show takes off, it’s common to see plenty of licensed merchandise on store shelves, hoping to cash in on the “hot property” of the day.

Most of us have probably encountered “hack” novelizations of movies, toy tie-in kids’ books, direct to video sequels….and sometimes feature films themselves which count on popular characters with established fanbases to put butts in movie seats, even if the movie itself is awful.

A major piece of advice I got at Superstars Writing Seminars was never to turn in a “hack” job on anything. If you’re hired to write purple unicorns, no matter how stupid you think purple unicorns are, you turn in the best purple unicorn story you can.

Your name as an author–the foundation of your writing career–needs to be tied to quality work. Don’t get a reputation as a “hack.” Get a reputation of turning in a great story, even if it’s about a concept that you (or other people) might think is silly.

You might be surprised where it leads. 

James Roberts, the writer of Transformers: Lost Light and its prequel series, Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, has won (well deserved) awards for his fascinating, multilayered, inclusive, comic-and-tragic sci-fi storytelling. It’s everything the feature films aren’t.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is beginning its eighth season soon. Along with great all-ages comics, a feature film and a spinoff series, MLP: FIM has expanded the My Little Pony brand to all manner of fans who’d never have thought twice about ponies when the show first started.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has built an empire on one-time “B-list” characters whose rights no film studio wanted. (Black Panther is magnificent.)

None of those success stories would have happened if the creators involved had turned out the minimum effort, taken their paycheques, and gone home.

Make the most of your opportunity. Respect the franchise you’re writing for. And build the kind of reputation you want.

 

About Mary:

Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats.

The Classic, and Not So Classic, Fairy Tale

I’ve heard it said a thousand times that there are no new ideas, just old ideas recycled, rehashed, recajiggered and repackaged. Maybe that’s true, but there’s one niche of stories that never seem to get old, no matter how many times they have been retold. Classic fairy tales.

You know the ones I’m talking about: Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Not only have moscinderellat of these been turned into movies—including classic cartoons by Disney—but each of these stories have been rewritten again and again.

I won’t take you down the proverbial Rabbit’s Hole, but Google “Alice in Wonderland Adaptations” and go to Wikipedia. You won’t be disappointed.

For now, let’s stick with Cinderella. I once sat next to a single mother turned author at a book signing that told me if she saw a gap in finances approaching, she would write a quick Cinderella retelling and put it up on Amazon. Instant cash. Unfortunately for me, Cinderella is generally free of fist fights, action scenes and random ninjas, so I have yet to try this tactic, but she swears by it.

Then again, what must a Cinderella story include? A lonely, mistreated young woman, living with an evil step mother, who only wants to go to the ball. I could work ninjas into that. Now that I think about it, Prince Charming is a bonus that comes with the ball. Hmmm.

Movies seem to be a good platform for adaptations. Here are just a few that feature the Cinderella story:

-Disney’s classic Cinderella. I grew up on this one, and was wary of shrinking pumpkins for ages.

The Slipper and the Rose. A comical, musical retelling that harnesses the charm of a young Richard Chamberlin dancing in his own mausoleum, and the fantastic idea of a bride finding ball. (There’s a song about that too.)

Elle Enchanted. Put a curse on Elle that forces her to do anything anyone tells her to and see what happens. This one was a book first.

Into the Woods. Insert a handful of fairy tales, squeeze, twist, shake and pour. This is what happens. It was a stage production before it was a movie, by the way.

Ever After. Set in historical-ish France, this version brings modern ideas (independent women, education for all and inventors) into the classic story. Funny. Snarky.

There are plenty of novels as well, Cinder being among the most recent and the most unique. A science fiction backdrop, cyborgs and more.

As the world moves on, these adaptations will keep coming. What if Cinderella had access to social media? #evilstepmotherssuck #opressedstepsistersunite #sneakingouttonightnomatterwhat

It can, and will, go on and on. Bring it.

A Man Plus A Woman Equals – Comrades?

pacific rimI’ve heard the advice that, when possible, it’s a great idea to add a romance subplot to your story. I’m not talking about romance as a genre–a genre that I’ve published in–in which the developing relationship between two characters is the focus of the plot. I’m talking about stories in which the heroes are in pursuit of another goal and just happen to fall in love with one another along the way.

Well…

Sometimes it’s a great idea, and sometimes it’s not.

Quick, think of your favourite onscreen romance. Your “canon ship,” if you will. (For those not in fandom = “Ship” means “relationship,” and “canon” means it actually appeared in the source material….because creators of transformative works will happily develop relationships between characters who never even meet in the source material…)

Who have you got?

Han Solo and Princess Leia?

Robin Hood and Maid Marian?

Korra and Asami?

korrasamiThese are examples of romance being a great addition to the story. Plenty of readers who would never pick up a “romance” story enjoy the interpersonal dynamics and the fantasy of falling in love taking place alongside the epic adventure. Romance adds another level of appeal, and the more appeal, the better when you’re trying to sell a story.

But we can all list examples of romance being done poorly.

Stories where “romance” is replaced by a sex scene – the kind that doesn’t contribute to the story. I’m sure many of us have waited through “this is the part where they have sex, because of course they do. Hurry up and get back to the real story.”

Stories where “romance” takes place between two characters that have no chemistry, no reason to be interested in one another, save for the fact that the “romance” box on the writer’s checklist needs ticking.

Stories where one character–often but not always the female character–exists solely to be a love interest for another character, and has little personality beyond “X’s girlfriend/wife/etc.”

Stories where an interesting female character suddenly becomes “weakened”and falls in love with the “Mr Average” leading man, who saves the day (does anyone have examples of a male character falling victim to this? Female examples include the Lego Movie, the Matrix, All You Need is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow…)

And worst of all, stories where romance runs counter to the themes and ideas in the story.

Mad Max: Fury Road was a breath of fresh air to me and many other people in that its lead characters, Max and Furiosa, are a man and a woman who…don’t fall in love! Their relationship develops from adversarial (Furiosa has gone rogue to rescue five women who’ve been held in sexual servitude, and she fears Max is an obstacle to her success; Max just wants to live and will go through whoever he has to) to mutual respect, friendship, and, yes, affection…but nowhere is there any hint of romance. Indeed, Furiosa’s position as a woman in a leadership role in a patriarchal community has interesting implications as to what her views of sexuality, gender, and relationships must be, given the society in which she lives (and in contrast to the society she was born into, which has flaws of its own). To try to shoehorn in a romance with Max (who is suffering from mental illness and also struggling to define his role in society) would not have fit this story whatsoever.
fury roadThis is not to say that romance has “cooties”. There’s an obvious relationship between Warboy Nux and ex-breeder Capable, but whether this is “romance” or a more innocent sort of childlike affection between two emotionally stunted people is open to interpretation. Mad Max doesn’t shy away from deep emotion and vulnerability. It does show that romance and sex are not the only ways to show emotion and vulnerability in relationships between men and women.

Pacific Rim is another excellent example of a movie where a male and female soldier work together to accomplish a dangerous mission. There’s no doubt that Raleigh and Mako are very close, emotionally–they wouldn’t be able to fight together in their robot without a deep connection. But there’s no sex and not even so much as a kiss between them in the movie itself. Are they in romantic love, or are they comrades-in-arms? The movie doesn’t answer this question, and doesn’t need to. In this case, open-ended ambiguity lets viewers imagine a romance, or not, as they choose–whichever is more meaningful to the viewer. Some viewers will want the romance fantasy; others will want affirmation of closeness without romance. Unlike Mad Max: Fury Road, where it’s important that Furiosa and Max not be romantically involved, Pacific Rim benefits from an ambiguous relationship that can be what the viewer wants it to be.

In real life, plenty of us interact with people of the opposite gender who we aren’t 1.) related to, 2.) sexually involved with, or 3.) romantically attracted to. Yet so many stories focus on romance to the exclusion of other types of relationships. The result is stories that don’t reflect the full human experience, and a skewed depiction of romance as the be-all and end-all of relationships.

Romance has a wide appeal, but there are some stories that don’t benefit from romance. These include: stories with asexual and aromantic lead characters (people who do not experience sexual or romantic attraction)…characters who are equally worthy of being heroes with their own stories. Stories with lead characters who are at points in their lives where they are not ready for romantic relationships (Furiosa, Max). Stories in which a man and a woman work closely together, risk their lives together, would do anything for one another…but whose “love” need not be romantic love.

In some stories romantic love will make sense for the characters, the plot and the setting. In some stories, it won’t. While there will always be a market for a good old-fashioned love story, I believe that audiences also want to see other kinds of relationships on the big screen, the small screen, and in the stories they read.

Calling back to the familiar when starting new: Star Trek: Into Darkness

 

resonance Whether we know it or not, we all respond to resonance in story telling. “What’s resonance?” you ask. To borrow from David Farland’s wonderful novel, Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing,

All successful writers use resonance to enhance their stories by drawing power from stories that came before, by resonating with their readers’ experiences, and by resonating within their own works.

Farland, David (2012-12-09). Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing (Kindle Locations 79-82). . Kindle Edition.

We feel powerful emotions when we read a book that somehow resembles other works that we love.

Farland, David (2012-12-09). Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing (Kindle Locations 100-101). . Kindle Edition.

 

trek into darkness

So, what are you going to do when you want to start fresh for one of the most popular franchises ever? Tell your own story, but make sure it resonates with what came before. Star Trek: Into Darkness excels at this.

SPOILER ALERT: THIS POST TALKS IN DETAIL ABOUT STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS THERE WILL BE SPOILERS SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW, STOP READING NOW. I’LL FORGIVE YOU. GO WATCH THE MOVIE AND COME BACK.

You have been warned.

Love or hate the rebooted Star Trek, you have to admire the talent that went behind creating it. The first movie set the franchise on its head. Star Trek: Into Darkness continues this seeming disregard for the prior Star Trek universe, but if you dissect the movie, you can tell that isn’t the case.

Let me start with an apology. Because Into Darkness is still in theatres, I’m sure I didn’t catch all the references. For some reasons, the people in the seats near mine objected to my flashlight and incessant note taking. But I think my barely legible notes will do well to illustrate the masterful use of resonance in this movie.

Star Trek: Into Darkness starts with a scene that could have been left on the cutting room floor from Raiders of the Lost Arc. Kirk and Bones have stolen a cultural icon, one they aren’t even sure what it is, and are being chased by angry spear wielding natives. See, the similarity to Raiders? No? Substitute Trek’s white-skinned natives for the dark-skinned ones in Raiders and the scroll from Trek with the little gold statue Indy steals before the rock comes rolling down. While Kirk and Bones don’t jump into a plane and fly away. they do swim down to the Enterprise and fly away.

What does director J.J. Abrams get from starting like this? A couple of things. He’s setting himself apart from the Trek movies that have come before. He’s also promising us that this Trek will be an action adventure movie in space. Abrams resoundingly delivers on this promise.

Even with his apparent disregard for the prior Trek universe (you know, the one he blew up), Abrams constantly refers back to it. One of the challenges Abrams has with his reboot is giving us characters that resemble, at least at first, the ones we know and love from the original Star Trek, and then developing them in a new direction based on the universe changes. But some truths remain constant. Kirk remains a womanizer. Bones isn’t keen on transporters.

When Kirk, Spock and Uhura need to go to Cronos, the Klingon home world, they take two security officers. Those officers happen to be the bullies who beat up Kirk in the first reboot before Christopher Pike convinces Kirk to join Star Fleet. The ship they take is from the “Mudd incident.” Harry Mudd, of course, featured heavily in the original series. In Season 1, Episode 6, Mudd’s Women, and Season 2, Episode 8, I, Mudd, the irrascable conman, Harry Mudd plagues Kirk and his crew. The quick one line encompasses two of the original Trek episodes.

When they arrive at Cronos. we see that the moon. Praxis, has already exploded. Even though Abrams has foreclosed a remake of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered County by already having the moon explode, he references the prior movie. The audience already knows why the moon exploded, and Into Darkness doesn’t have to delve into that bit of history.

The Klingons themselves call back to the Star Trek Next Generation ones. There is a similarity in design, but makeup designer Neville Page takes them up a level. These Kilngons are even more kick butt, not that I had thought that possible until I saw these. The gold accents to the skull ridges makes them an edgier version.

Bones experiments on a dead tribble. Who can forget the tribbles and the trouble they caused in The Trouble with Tribbles, Season 2, Episode 15? Because this is a reboot, rather than the plague the tribbles were in the original series, a tribble saves the day, sort of.

Of course, the biggest reveal and resonance in the story is…

BONUS SPOILER ALERT: Really if you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t read past this point.

…that the villain, thought to be a rouge Star Fleet member, is actually Khan Noonien Singh. Khan is probably the most love nemesis from the original series and movies. Khan first appeared in Season 1, Episode 22’s Space Seed, and who could forget the movie: Star Trek, Wrath of Khan?

 Once Khan’s identity is revealed there is a logical and inevitable progression to a scene that could have been twisted right out of Wrath of Khan. Twisted, but still almost beat for beat the same.

Kirk faces the Kobayashi Maru situation when the Dreadnaught class ship pounds Enterprise. His ship is crippled and his crew about to be exterminated. It’s a scenario he’s cheated in both the original Trek and the reboot. This time he doesn’t get to cheat. He loses.

Abrams doesn’t let you forget that this is an action adventure movie in space. The dying Enterprise’s engines finally rebooting, the ship falls through the clouds. You can hear the squawk of chatter as Spock tries to get Enterprise airworthy again. The camera stays above the cloud bank. Then a triumphant Enterprise roars through the clouds and gains altitude. While Abrams didn’t have the ship silhouetted by the moon, like they did with the Batplane in Batman, the resonance rings true. We know what’s coming. A kick butt fight between the hero and villain. Again, Abrams delivers.

Even the final moments of the movie refers to other ones. There’s a paraphrasing of a The Princess Bride quote, though I was really hoping for the actual quote; “You’ve been mostly dead…” Still, Bones came close enough. And of course, the movie ends with the Enterprise starting its 5 year journey to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Abrams’ careful interweaving of elements of the prior Trek Universe into his reboot has me looking forward to the next installment of the new franchise.

The Take Home:  Resonance matters. It is probably the most compelling tool we have in our writer’s tool box. So, how do you successfully retell a classic? By paying intentional homage to what came before. If the story is too “new” your audience will reject it. By carefully weaving elements of what came before into the new story, you give the readers a frame of reference, make them certain promises, and give them a comfort zone from which to relax and launch themselves into your retelling of a classic.