Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spoilers for Friday Night Lights Season 2 ensue

So I’ve been in Pennsylvania for the past week or so, watching the second season of Friday Night Lights on DVD. I didn’t mean to buy it, really, there was just sort of a perfect storm that descended on me that led me to that end. It involved a senior communication banquet that I half-remembered to go to, a $20 Barnes & Noble giftcard from that meeting, and a trip to the local Barnes and Noble on the same day - which happened to be on the exact day that the show came out on DVD. All in all, I only paid 8 bucks and change.

I hadn’t watched it since the first episode of the second season, when I quasi-gave up on the show. The murder annoyed me to no end, and I couldn’t imagine how the show could recover from it. It didn’t seem at all to be like the show I loved so much for the first season. But I had heard from several sources that the show got better after that, and it recovered from that misstep rather well to become one of the finest shows on television once again.

Now I’m about halfway through the second season, and I have to say: the show doesn’t really need to get better, it’s still great from the moment the season starts. It’s strange: absolutely everything else seems completely unaffected in quality, it’s JUST the murder subplot that’s annoying. I’ll be watching the same sort of real-life drama that was so engrossing for 22 episodes in the first season, and then all of a sudden it’ll go over to the murder subplot, and I’ll just have to roll my eyes and press on. It’s not that it’s bad per se, just terribly out of place.

In some ways, it almost works, too. The action itself seems larger-than-life, and very much like something that would happen on just any TV show. But the way the characters react to it, and the actors performances are all so realistic, it almost succeeds in selling me on the whole idea. Almost. It’s just that the original act still seems so out of place for the show that it’s hard to swallow a lot of what comes after.

But I’ll deal with it. Landry and Tyra are great, and if you’ve got to bend the rules of the universe a bit to get them together, then so be it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Geek Elite and the Information Super-highway.

Oops, I guess I took that week off.

I'm up at Messiah College now, seeing a lot of old friends for the last time. I've got a pretty jam-packed week-or-so, since it seems like every single day one of my friends has a senior project presentation to give. Already went to a reading of an original epic poem written by an atheist about Judas Iscariot's escape from Hell, today I've got a collection of Zombie short stories (i think?), and I'll be wrapping it all up with a screenplay reading about an aborted fetus...that lived. Yes, I have awesome friends.

But you don't come to this blog to read about my friends, or even my plans for the week. You come to this blog for endless Battlestar Galactica analysis!

...But not today.

I've just seen this article floating around, usually on much bigger and more important blogs than mine, and it makes me smile. Not just because of the mental image of Ron Moore drinking straight bourbon* with Javi, and the CSI guy (who used to be a Trek guy! who knew?). But it really does make me feel like we're living in the most exciting time for TV, and it's because of the internet.

I was gonna post this whole rant about the internet, but I just deleted it because it kind of devolved into rambling. Suffice to say, I think we take what we have for granted. Twenty years ago, if someone wanted to write for TV, they didn't have Alex, John, or (gasp! horror!) Lady Jane.

I didn't learn anything at all about TV writing from school. I did read one or two books about it, but the large bulk of what I know (which, granted, isn't all that much) was amassed from reading blogs. If I didn't have those resources, I really don't think I would have (or could have) written my first spec script.

So I guess this is a salute to all those out there in the scribosphere. Keep abiding. Taking her easy for all us sinners

* Come on, Ron. What happened to the single-malt scotch?

Friday, April 18, 2008

The best way to watch Beowulf

NOTE: This entry is very long. But it’s also 100% true, so believe me, it’s worth it.

Stephen Colbert was a bust. Not the man himself, of course, just my attempt to get into his audience. I went at 10 to sign up for standby, and arrived at 6 only to find that they wouldn’t be able to let all the people who had REAL tickets inside. Thus, my place as number 15 on the waiting list was as futile and frivolous as The 1/2 Hour News Hour. Oh well.

But thinking about my near-contact with a celebrity reminded me of the last time I was in Philadelphia, and the celebrity encounter of legend that ensued.

Now, I’m sure something like this is downright boring in LA, where running into Bruce Campbell at Trader Joes or Martin Scorcese at the In-N-Out Burger is about as novel or exciting as seeing an old man take his dachshund for a walk. But for someone from Virginia Beach, where the closest thing we have to a celebrity is Rudy from the first season of Survivor, this was a big deal.

The year was 2007, around the time the end-of-the-year movies started to come out. My film major friends and I decided to take a weekend away from the po-dunk town of Grantham, and drive to the City of Brotherly Love to see movies that you can’t see at Messiah College. Specifically: No Country for Old Men, and Beowulf…in IMAX 3D.

And man, let me tell you, Beowulf was awesome. But it had nothing to with the IMAX, the 3D, or even the Beowulf.

The place was the huge AMC IMAX theater in King of Prussia (right outside of Philadelphia). I only say that because after going into the city to buy our tickets for No Country (the theater didn’t have online ticketing), we were running late for Beowulf (which we bought online). We made it just in time, and the three of us jumped out as my friend Mr. Wells parked the car. At the Fandango machine, I glanced over to my right and saw a slightly over-weight, disheveled looking man with glasses. My first thought was “heh, it’s Peter Jackson”, because as we all know, there are a million slightly over-weight, disheveled looking men with glasses that kinda-sorta look like Peter Jackson.

Then I saw Fran Walsh. The color drained from my face as I slowly realized that it wasn’t just any slightly over-weight, disheveled looking man with glasses…it was the director of King Kong and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Suddenly stories I’d read online about how he was shooting the Lovely Bones outside of Philadelphia with Mark Wahlberg came rushing into my head. We watched in a trance as he and Fran walked inside with the kids. Wells came, and we frantically tried to tell him what happened. He too thought we were talking about just another slightly over-weight, disheveled looking man with glasses until he saw the teller tearing Mr. Jackson's ticket. Then he froze and could not breathe. This experience really could not have happened to a better set of nerds.

We still hadn’t really recovered from the shock when we got in the theater and realized that the only seats available were in the front. If you’ve ever tried to watch an IMAX film from the front of the theater, you know how much front seats suck. But it didn’t matter—because PJ and company were sitting in the second row. Yes that’s right, I saw Beowulf in IMAX 3D…in front of Peter Jackson.

Don’t worry. The best part is coming up.

It really was a surreal experience. A trailer for I Am Legend came on, and we could hear Fran Walsh whisper “Oh yeah…Andrew shot that”. I’d see the amazing motion-capture imagery on screen, and realize I was sitting in front of the man who essentially pioneered performance capture to begin with. I mean, the movie I was watching probably wouldn’t even have been greenlit if it weren’t for the success of Lord of the Rings telling studios that Epic Fantasies could make money now. Forget Will Smith (and Andrew Lesnie). This guy was Legend.

Anyway, about 20 minutes into the PG-13 movie’s R-territory violence, one of the kids said he was getting scared. So the kid and Fran left, leaving poor PJ to see the film by himself.

Then a funny thing happened. I started to hear a snoring sound from behind me. I looked at my friends, to make certain they were all hearing what I was. Sure enough, they were all also restraining laughter. I turned around, and yes: Peter Jackson, director of some of the longest movies of all time, FELL ASLEEP during Beowulf in IMAX 3D.

Later, after thinking about it, I came up with a scenario I like to think is what happened. He was up all night with Mark Wahlberg, working on some very complex and emotionally draining scene. Finally, around 6 in the morning, he gets a cut he’s satisfied with, and he turns in for his 90 minutes of sleep. Fran and the kids are coming in for the weekend, and he’s gonna show them around, and take them to a movie that he’s already seen a few times (while visiting Robert Zemeckis—the man who brought his films to America).

But none of that matters, because Peter Jackson still fell asleep during Beowulf in IMAX 3D. It almost makes me wish Beowulf was a really bad movie, because that would be the perfect capsule review. “You wanna know how much Beowulf sucks? Peter Jackson makes 4 hour movies, and even HE couldn’t stay awake for it!”

It kind of helped to balance the "legendary" view I had of the man, and really of celebrity in general. This wasn't PETER JACKSON: THE MAN WHO MAGICALLY SPINS EPIC FANTASY FILMS FROM HIS FINGERTIPS, this was Peter Jackson, the slightly over-weight, disheveled looking man with glasses who falls asleep in the movie theater. He's human. There's nothing magical about what he does. He just has many, many more opportunities than I do, and—more importantly—he’s taken full advantage of all them.

I think that’s really what I took away from the whole experience: success is attainable for real people, because everyone who has success is themselves a real person. Pretty basic, I know. Even with how much I make this seem like a big huge important event, it really wasn’t. All that happened was that I sat in front of a guy who fell asleep in the theater. A guy who just happened to make awesome movies.

And, before you ask: Yes. I decided I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t take the opportunity, so yes, I did shake his hand. We kinda had to wake him up to do it, and he probably wasn’t really conscious at all, but still. I shook his hand.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The artist formerly known as Agnax

New design! Let me know what you guys think. I’d felt for a while that it was time for a change, and since I’m getting ready to move out to LA, it seems like as good a time as any. So I opened up photoshop, made a banner by using the erase tool on several layers, and boom! New design.

It also feels pretty good to get rid of my whole “Agnax” domain. It was kind of a hold-over from high-school, where I got sick of Xanga, so hence I named my new blog Agnax. Yes, I know. Very creative. Now that that's over with, one would think that I'd be able to get around to changing my painfully high-schooler Instant Messenger name…

Personally, I like the name “writerling”, and how it implies my baby-writer status. I realize it doesn’t exactly flow off of the tongue (no really, try to say it), but I figure most people won’t be saying it out loud anyway. Oh well, one day when I finally understand what I’m doing and move out of baby-writerdom (thus having a blog that people would even want to tell other people about), I can change the name again.

Anyway, I’m up in Philly for this week, ostensibly so that I could go to the mandatory meeting for the Temple University Summer Internship Program. It was incredibly boring, and I already knew virtually everything they said: you need a car. Traffic is terrible. No, you can't rent a car if you're under 21. No, there isn't any public transportation. No, biking is not particularly effective. Yes you really do need to have a car. Temple students can ask some pretty dumb questions.

The meeting didn’t really serve any purpose except for me to find out that the professor never got my application. Which is aggravating times two because it had already been lost once when I tried to send it to my Messiah prof. All could do was to fill out another application, and pay 15 bucks to overnight it to the Temple prof. When I returned with him to his office, I noticed that it was sitting on his desk, unopened. Problem solved.

But the real reason I'm in Philly this week: Stephen Colbert.

Oh yes. This will be amazing.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Excitement trumps fear.

I wrote a short screenplay the other day.

It wasn’t great by any means, but it was unusual for me in that I got an idea, sketched out the basic idea, and pumped out a first draft in an hour. See, what I normally do is get an idea, get excited, throw some ideas on paper, and then… “let it simmer”. Which is really just my way of rationalizing the fact that I’m scared to death of writing. Because, as some of you may know, if you “let it simmer”…it—whatever “it” is—never gets done.

Emily Blake just blogged about something similar, when people are terrified of writing garbage, so they just don’t write.
If I never try, I can always suffer under the delusion that I am awesome, I just never had an opportunity to prove it. But if I try and fail, then I'll have to face the fact that my lifelong dream was a fantasy.
And I think my problem is essentially the same. I’ll have an idea, love the idea, sketch out the idea, maybe even make a detailed outline of the idea, but I’ll never actually make it into something more than an idea.

So what do you do to defeat the crippling fear of sucking? How do you move your idea from just being an idea to something more than that, be it book, short story, or screenplay?

Well, I think I may have finally figured it out: Get excited, and try as hard as you can to stay that way.

Most of the time, the reason why I stop working on something is because I forget what it was that made me excited about it in the first place. The fun drains out of it, and it becomes something I have to do, rather than something I’m excited that I get to do.

Excitement trumps fear.

And since excitement fades as time passes, you’ve got to get as much done on an idea while it’s still fresh in your mind. You know what it’s like when you’re making an outline. You write down the basics of the scene, and probably even hear snippets of dialogue in your head, the different beats and how they all play out. But if you’re me, you never think to write these out, because you just assume that when you sit down to write it, the ideas’ll be flowing in the same way. But then when you actually sit down to write it, all that’s gone.

This time, I decided it would be different. When I got the idea for the short and outlined the idea, I looked at the clock and realized I had an hour to kill. So I wrote it.

When I finished, I wasn’t sure if it was really great or a piece of shit. Now, having looked over it a few days later, I know that it’s somewhere in between. But now I know for sure which one it is. And I think it’s better to have a mediocre reality, especially one that I can work on to make better, than an imaginary masterpiece.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Maybe we should Dump them into the Atlantic

DVICE: We dump old subway cars into the Atlantic, and it's a good thing

This article is pretty interesting, but for my money, the fun doesn't begin until the comments section:

BY MURC AT 7:13 PM ON 04/11/08
I'm assuming you just found this out and then assumed that nobody else must know. :/

they have been doing this for many years now. I've known about it for a long time, and I live in the middle of the country.

in other words...stick to tech.

BY STEVE AT 7:15 PM ON 04/11/08
How does it feel being smarter than everyone Murc?

BY MURC AT 9:31 PM ON 04/11/08
it feels good.

BY TEDINASIA AT 4:17 AM ON 04/12/08
Ahh Steve, don't give him a hard time.. anyone named "Murc" must be ... challenged...

BY TRAVELER AT 6:50 PM ON 04/12/08
Maybe sinking large ships makes sence, but it'd be much better to to crush this small stuff and recycle.

Shouldn't that be 'sinking subway cars makes cents'?

BY DANZARA AT 7:49 AM ON 04/13/08
I wanna who you people are in the world.

As do I, Danzara. As do I.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The President and the Colonel

So, I was hoping I could blog about the spectacular adventures we had during the President's visit to Pizza Hut. No, not that President. This one. Man, I would really like to make a political joke here, but Bush jokes haven't been funny since 2004. Thanks a lot, Comedy Central...and President Bush's approval rating. Hey-oh! (see? not funny.)

Anyway, Mr. Bergren and his private jet were unfortunately held up (no doubt because of the obscene amounts of cocaine, hookers, and white collar crime they had to do), and were left without enough time to see everything in the area. So something had to be cut, and that something (surprise!) was us.

What surprised me the most about the whole thing was that I actually felt let down. Somehow, I'd let myself become emotionally invested in the visit, and when it didn't happen, I felt like I'd been robbed of an important life experience. I'm not sure what I expected to happen, was he going to put his arm around me and say "You've got talent kid, you're gonna go places..." before ? Or perhaps treat me like one of Michael Bay's countless unpaid interns on the set of Transformers, and verbally berate me before swallowing me whole? Or...quiz me on the FOUR MOMENTS OF CUSTOMER TRUTH?

Oh well, didn't happen. But you know what DID? THE SEASON PREMIERE OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA!

Man. It's been too long. A year is a very long time. A lot can happen in a year.

I'd blogged previously on my reactions from the season finale, and there were a lot of things I loved, but also quite a few things I was very wary of. Specifically the revelation of the four Bob Dylan cylons. It wasn't the song that annoyed me, it was a more basic complaint about what they'd done with the characters. I believe my exact words were:
How can they be Cylons? I've read on boards that "we need to redefine what what we think a Cylon is...", but even with a LOT of redefining, we still have to redefine who we think Tyrol is, or who we think Tigh is, or who we think Anders is. I mean, it's obvious that the writers didn't know this from the beginning of the show, and it was put in here to keep with their tradition of earth-shattering season finales. To use comic book terminology, they've retconned their backstories--masters of revisionist history that they are, they've changed what we thought we knew about our favorite characters, and to me, it all feels fake. It's fake, and it's a lie to the audience, because they didn't write them knowing this, and they don't have a believable rationalization for it. At least not where I'm standing. To me, it just seems terribly convenient that "a switch went off, just like that", and they're Cylons now. That way, we don't have to worry about things like continuity and character arcs.

Ouch. I was pretty harsh.

Tigh specifically was who I had a problem with. Over the course of three seasons (but especially the third) he had become my favorite character by far, and a lot of that was due to the very dark times he'd been through, and his very true, natural human reaction to them. From his alcoholism, to his missteps while in control of the fleet, to his quasi-retirement on New Caprica, the resistance, and of course, poisoning his wife and the huge guilt that reverberated from that act, his arc was so tragic, so dark, that I felt that in many ways, he captured in miniature what the show was really all about.

And then he's suddenly a Cylon. Wait, really? I had my doubts. Huge ones.

Luckily, after giving me a year to let those doubts fester, Mr. Moore and Company gave me this scene:

Wow. Just...wow. Give Michael Hogan a motherfrakking Emmy now. Please.

Thank you Ron. I for one am glad as hell to have you guys back.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The best way to spend the next 1 minute and 39 seconds of your life.

Not much to post today, only because it's incredibly hard to think about anything else when hope lies just on the horizon...specifically tonight at 10/9c.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Why I hate this man.

Okay, truth be told, I don’t actually hate this man. I’ve never actually met him. Of course, come Saturday that will change.

This man is Scott Bergren, and he is (as far as the internet can tell me) the President of Pizza Hut. On Saturday Morning And if you hadn’t guessed yet, he and his entourage will wedge themselves into two minivans, and come pouring into MY pizza hut this Saturday morning, where they will roam free to watch my every move and quiz me on the dreaded FOUR MOMENTS OF CUSTOMER TRUTH (Greeting, Order Taking, Delivery, Payment and Thanks. Yeah, they kinda squished two into the last one. It's corporate math.). This of course has resulted in nothing but cleaning for every waking moment until then.

It’s become absurd. People are working overtime just to scrub floors, dirty walls are being covered with a new coat of off-white paint, and those of us who have the pleasure of working this Saturday have been given bright new uniforms with the instruction not to wear them until THE BIG VISIT. All of this for a visit that will last - at the maximum - all of 15 minutes.

They nearly even had me shave my beard. Listen, I like my beard. Probably more than I like this job. If I don't have a beard, I look about 14 years old. This is not a good thing. Our district manager (who sports a neatly-trimmed goatee) narrowly saved my facial hair, saying that the beard is fine as well as it's well kept.

But the worst part is that I used to read at Pizza Hut. A lot. But since this whole thing started I haven’t been able to get but 3 chapters into the Yiddish Policemen’s Union. I need my Chabon(slash-future Coen Bros.), and Lord knows that won't happen at HOME.

So this is why I hate this man. He takes me away from my Chabon.

This needs to stop. And it needs to stop now.

Or at least it needs to stop by Saturday.