Monday, February 16, 2009

and I called it Ricki Tiki

I'm writing this down in hopes that my thoughts will be sorted. I'm developing a short script, something ten minutes long or so. But I need a decent idea before I develop it.

First I wanted to do something centered around a conflict between a young couple, with loaded and witty conversation. I want to shoot it to look like Mad Men, implicitly set in the late fifties or so, but only by the exclusion of modern references, and perhaps the wardrobe. The problem is that if the film includes only this conversation, it will be limited in scope and it will be difficult to sustain interest for ten minutes. It's also hard to conform it to a traditional protagonist v antagonist three act arc, a hero's journey, which the school strongly advocates. There could be an arc to their conversation but not to either character, which is the real problem.

Then I thought of a story about a young woman who works in marketing and wants to gain the attention of some guy. I ran with this for a while; she'd use her knowledge of marketing strategies to get the guy to ask her out, except she'd fail of course. Then Something happens. I also wanted cupcakes to play a central role in the story-- either the marketing firm is doing work around cupcakes, or, I don't know. I have a few variations of what could happen, but I couldn't figure out who the guy is and why he is so hard to get to. I wanted a female protagonist because men are pretty dumb, more instinctual. I even wrote a rough outline to pitch to my instructor, but I knew it was a crappy story because there's nothing at stake, there's nothing to make the man really worth her investment, and there's nothing to keep them apart.

Instead, literally on the way to class, I wrote an outline in which a young woman wants to become a bartender at a famous tiki bar, and spends a week devotedly researching tiki culture and trying to perfect her drinks. She's completely drunk the entire time because she samples her own recipes. She finally has an interview, and it goes horribly of course, but she pours the perfect mai tai. She passes out and wakes up the next morning in bed with her arm around an inflatable palm tree. I pitched this in class.

That's a nice, silly story, but there's no pay off at the end. I don't want to write it because there's little to write.

The problem is that I still have the idea about the arguing couple stuck in my head. I've thought of a dozen things they could be fighting about but haven't figured how to make it worth ten minutes of time. It could be about the man's addiction to an online game, like World of Warcraft, but I'd hate to make it so topical and silly. It would then become too lighthearted and would limit it's universality. I don't want it to be about Now.

I have to write a detailed outline by Friday.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

understanding humor

They say that deconstructing humor is like watching sausage being made. I don't agree with that, because at the end of the day, deconstructed humor isn't edible.

I'm taking a class on sound design, about how to record and edit decent audio. The instructor mentioned that he had some audio samples of Brian Eno and we were going to practice listening closely.

"Pardon?" one student asked. "You should listen more closely," I said. I was surprised how much everyone laughed at that. It was such an obvious thing to say. I remember waiting half a second for someone else to preempt me.

I've thought a lot about what makes people laugh. There's a large variety of distinct things that people laugh at, but one of the most common is when you make a logical conclusion that is completely ridiculous. For example, let's say Joe the plumber sees the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile driving down the street. Joe asks, do you think they use cooking oil in there instead of motor oil?

That's not particularly funny but that's off the top of my head. You see, cars have oil in them, food is cooked in oil, so it makes sense for a giant hotdog car to have cooking oil in its engine. It's logic followed to a point of absurdity.

Months ago, I was presenting a story about a professional blogger who, when the power goes out, devolves into a caveman-like state, but still must find a way to make coffee. The instructor casually and humorously mentioned that it would make a great commercial for Foldgers. Then a fellow student presented an abstract story about a woman who, when full of loneliness, falls in love with her furniture and eventually becomes a chair, literally transmogrifying. I said that it would make a great commercial for Ikea.

The humor there was in the repetition of a pre-established notion, again drawn out to a logical discordant extreme. Without the preexisting idea of stories-as-advertisements established by the instructor when I pitched my story, my comment would then just be weak semi-relevant sarcasm. The Ikea comment is only funny when the logical idea already exists but is followed illogically in a logical direction. Like a flea circus.

Those sorts of jokes must make complete sense but must be completely absurd. Of course, there's no time in normal conversation to construct a joke. You simply speak and hope the words you're saying aren't too dumb.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Unnecessary thoughts

A friend texted me the other day "Do you believe humans can ruin the Earth?" What a question for a text message. I replied that there's no right or wrong way for the Earth to be, but humans act in parasitic way. Then we die and the Earth changes again. Even if we raise the temperature of the atmosphere to the detriment of many other species, we'll eventually die off and things will return to pre-human levels. What a nice thought.

Humans have existed for such a short period of time that we only want the Earth to exist as it has for the past 50,000 years or so, when in fact it is an always changing place, but on a time scale such that we're oblivious to it. Not factually oblivious, we know what happened when, we know the numbers, but devoid of practical knowledge.

It's an interesting thought, I think. I know, of course it is bad to pump chemicals from our factories into nature, but people talk about human pollution as if we are not of this planet, that we are not of the nature we are harming. I've never truly understood the notion of natural versus artificial, because anything artificial is create from ingredients initially harvested from nature. I realize that's as an effectual argument as saying, well heck, it's all atoms anyway!

People love all-natural food, of course. Locally grown, all that. I think giant factory farms are probably a dozen times more efficient, in terms of output and the use of energy, than any hand-grown vegetable. That is why they make money, that is why they are scaled so large. Humanity has evolved based on the efficiency of its farms, but now people are embracing less-efficient food production under the theory that its actually better for the environment or better for you or might be better tasting. I really don't buy it.

[Small update: I am aware this is a very complex issue. I also want you to know I couldn't be more ignorant about food production. But in terms of output efficiency, I believe giant robot farms are inherently more productive].

Some people look at the bread aisle in a grocery store and scoff at the dozen different varieties of plain white bread, as if its all so impersonal, so unnatural, as if to lament the good old days when you'd go the bakery to buy a single hand-kneaded loaf. I know that sounds nice. It is. But the efficiency of our production abilities allows us to have hundreds of identical loaves always in stock, always free of mold, always ready to be eaten. THAT is progress and some people perceive it as regression. Natural foods are a LUXURY because they are ineffecient; that is what I want to say.

My real point is that humans are just mean monkeys.

Monday, February 02, 2009


I've just realized that I take a lot of pictures of people when they're not looking, from behind. See?



the end of something.