End Of The Movie

End Of The Movie

I've lately become somewhat obsessed with a particular type of movie ending.

You know the one.

Our protagonist/antagonist has overcome whatever it is Joe Campbell said they must overcome. Happily ever after feels imminent, as underlined by perhaps the opening riffs of a familiar pop-tune. But our hero, they've still got one final punchline to drop, whether verbal or otherwise, right before a cut-to-black.

And that music? It plays. We hit the chorus, or an ironic line, or something that makes us smile almost as much as the punchline, hitting its stride just as the first names appear.

It's a very specific type of ending, and to be honest, I have no idea if there's a particular cinematic term for it. But you know what I'm talking about, right?

In case you're unclear, here's one - the final scene of the Wachowski's paranoid red pill, The Matrix:

At this point of the movie, we've just seen the protagonist literally return from the dead, a god reborn. The new, subversive king of an artificial world populated by human slaves spending their entire life asleep as part of the plot's major twist: as our evil robot overlord's organic power supply. Seeing Neo fly up out of shot like that for the first time, it's a real moment. People do superhuman things inside the Matrix, but nobody's ever flown. And to suddenly drop an entirely fresh twist like that, literally a few frames before the cut to black? The effect it has on the average nerdy viewer is close to orgasmic. But then consider the tune itself : Wake Up, by Rage Against The Machine. One of the seminal anti-establishment protest songs of that odd late-90s era, with no accident that it both matched the subversive themes of the film itself, but also that it quite literally has a title matching the central demand placed on all the major characters (and presumably the millions of sleepers) as the film closes - an awakening this new god will hopefully bring about.

It all works. All a bit obvious, perhaps, but in the heat of the moment, if you're too caught up in the action to ponder it, the resulting end-of-the-movie moment is electrifying.

Though this technique does not necessary have to be a high-powered fist-bump, of the likes of Fight Club ('Where Is My Mind?') and Iron Man (though does that one count, the music starting arguably a touch late?) There's also the softer, smoother exit via the exact same route, often creating as evocative and energetic a moment as the punches-in-the-face.

Take the final scene Wes Anderson's classic, Rushmore:

While our protagonist doesn't actually do much more to advance the plot here, he does succeed at taking the hand of the woman he'd attempted to woo so unsuccessfully throughout the film. And perhaps in that final moment as the music begins to play, by hearing the mature way Max accepts his defeat, in taking his glasses off, Rosemary's finally looking at him as a man, not the ridiculous young boy he'd been throughout the film. And the song itself… well, that says it all. As the verse swells, the film slows to almost a halt, as we see all major characters assemble for one final photo, our couple still very much the focus of the frame. And just as the cut to black (or in this case, the curtain close) finally occurs, the music reaches the chorus: "I wish that I knew what I know now"; a line whose relation to everything else one can hardly ignore. But are these the character's thoughts, or that of the director himself? With Anderson's name revealed immediately as the line is sung, perhaps this busts the fourth wall for us slightly, the director having said on occasion how much of his own past he threaded into the film's central character.

I love these moments, and yes, I've become obsessed.

Taking note of them for months. Collecting them. Stashing them away for some unknown purpose, unknown even to me at this point. The novel I'm currently developing has accidentally wound up with moment like it winding through the narrative and tying up the ending. Part of me even thinks there might be an idea buried amongst this odd collection to form the premise of an entire story in itself. Perhaps a tale about someone bound by a collection of endings, the same way the protagonist in High Fidelity (another great end-of-the-movie play-out moment) seems bound by the songs and playlists of the women in his past.

Or is that just too obvious? Would it be more appropriate for a literary tie-in of this device to be something more down the 'random swing track' path Die Hard treads, or merely a stretching of the final mood as per the much-drooled-at Gosling-fest, Drive? Or is it foolish to even be trying to force this round cinematic peg into square literary hole?

I don't know. And if I'm completely honest here, I have no idea why I'm collecting these. And yes, I am collecting them. Check out these sweet puppies on Spotify. Each one of them one of these very deliberate end-of-the-movie music moments (if you can guess them all). Well, not this one, which I kept on the list for no good reason than… well… who doesn't think every playlist deserves a little Backstreet? And no, it really doesn't count as one of my obsessional types. Party tracks, such as the play-out at the end of Dirty Dancing, or the odd moment at the end of 40 Year Old Virgin; this type of ending isn't quite the same. They're literally just playing the track, delivering a performance. Where's the irony, the punch-in-the-face, protagonist's final punchline? No, not quite as magical, no matter how awesome or appropriate a party playout can be as an ending.

My search shall continue, but until I reach whatever the unknown destination is, let me know if you think of any more.

And like, don't you… forget about me…


demislw - Online Book Discovery

The Pitfalls of Online Book Discovery

Books, and in particular, the process of book discovery, are still being somewhat failed by the Internet.

No, that's unfair — a big call, and a big generalisation. Certain genres are fine, as well as anybody interested in keeping up with that handful of bestsellers that happen to be riding high on the western world's collective Top 20 at any given time. You know, those titles you find in every airport bookshop.

But wait, there I go already: using a real-world example to represent book discovery in a way you'll all relate to. Where's that ubiquitous Internet equivalent? I'm sure many could throw an example or ten at me, but of those, how many will have a list identical to the next? And even though there'll be some places that will start to clump, what are the chances that those popular sources match my particular taste in books?

It's all so hard. If you want to get serious about finding online book reviews and curation that matches your own tastes, it really is a lot of work. Too much for most, which is a shame, considering what is potentially being missed if you stick to the easy Top Lists. Plus — and I'm happy to cast this generalisation out there without sounding like a total snob — there's often a lot of pulpy stuff on those Top Lists. I'm sure you can pick a few titles out of the air that found their way onto the popular bestseller lists that may have been a fun holiday ready, but ultimately drivel and not all that engaging as a non-holiday read (if that's what you're into). Or worse: crappy YA or NA titles that get caught on that list for two years at a time, often joined by their sequel/s, openly derided by all bar their specific demographic or fan-base.

Look, all that stuff is still fine. Each to their own. I don't mind if people are reading crappy books - it's still cooler they're reading anything at all, rather than not. If those books are what sells, then whether I'm into them as well is irrelevant - give the people what they want.

The problem, then, is still this other one: how are the rest of us supposed to navigate? With the most prolific book-buyers (thus demand-supply drivers) not always encouraging titles with higher education or reading-age levels, particularly with the rise and rise of the Young and New Adult genres in the past ten years, those with broader genre or literary tastes aren't getting the same ease of discovery as the rest. Those reviews are still all out there, those books still being reviewed, but it takes a lot more proactive work to sift through it all, and even more research to know whether or not individual reviewers might share your taste (as opposed to going with the numbers, as YA readers are often able to do).

The solution, for now, would appear to be one-on-one engagement within communities you know and trust.

Finding certain Goodreads lists. An individual reviewer on your favourite newspaper. A regular best-of-the-month post on a particular blog. Some dark corner of one of Reddit's numerous book subreddits.

Yes, it's all out there. It's still just a little too hard. I've had to do a lot of work over the past couple of years whittling down my own preferred sources. And honestly, when all is said and done, apart from the annual Booker Prize Longlist and a couple of favourite reviewers, much of my own reading list comes from a handful of trusted friends I'm in regular comment-banter with on one particular (private) Facebook Group.

"You'll love this one, dude." See, I can trust that title, since I trust the guy behind the words.

What I'm hoping to see in the coming years is a stronger level of AI on popular book sites or stores. Right now you tend to get "other readers who bought this also bought ____ " style suggestions from sites, which I'm assuming are largely based on the numbers (see above re: pulp). But imagine if the software began digging even deeper than that. What if, having just picked up and enjoyed The Goldfinch, some clever piece of code was able to identify that I enjoyed that particular style of writing, or that I like stories with characters spiralling into dark, dark places, or that matched books with similar overarching themes, keeping that in mind while they ran through your own history for things of a similar reading-age etc. Perhaps it'd be smart enough to learn that you didn't just like reading heavy book after heavy book, throwing in something lighter or quirky after you just read something dark? I can see it being possible at some point, though it doesn't exist yet. Not online, not automagically.

Or does it?

I am getting my reading list from somewhere, right? And didn't I just say most of it was coming from a nice bunch of trusted friends on a private Facebook Group? My eyeballs are still finding those great book titles, aren't they?

Haters gonna hate.

I'm sure I'll get my super-smart AI book-discovery robot one day, Internet. (And my flying car.) And boy, will there be hell to pay the first time that bleeping bastard serves me up a copy of Twilight or Fifty Shades.

Page Break

It's been a busy November. After several very solid crunch-time weeks getting my upcoming novel The Brave ready for a team of readers to break, it's out there, being picked through, chuckled at, and critiqued even as I type this.

No matter how much I prepared myself for the day it would finally leave my laptop, it was still an unexpected and difficult moment - sitting there, finger poised above the send button on a bunch of emails, waiting to send the baby off on its first day of school. The feedback has already started trickling in - largely a good list of constructive picking-apart which I'm largely taking aboard in order to make The Brave a better book (and without too much work) - valid points, all. I expected there'd be fights and tears, but those haven't come. (Still... early days - nobody has finished yet...)

For now I'm trying to forget about the book, the disastrous number of typos I'm only just starting to notice, and focus on the next phase - agents, my pitch, and how to get it out there. There's still going to be some work to do once the team have delivered their numerous verdicts, but it's been nice getting out of the word-space this week and back into the cold, boring reality of finding the right home for the toddler once it hits its teenage years. Mind-numbing stuff. Staring at a billion literary agents' websites, poring over the likes and dislikes of the numerous strangers' biographies (all those heads I need to get right inside), staring at their mugshots, trying to see if I 'feel the vibe'. It's fun in its own way, but difficult - I know how busy these people are, and I don't want to waste their time with a book or a relationship that's not going to work out. I've got a strategy at least. I don't know if it's a good one, but like any great casino gambler will tell you, coming up with a thoughtful game-plan before putting in the hours is the only way to get results.

For now it's a great distraction. The coming weeks are likely to get icky as I keep polishing, incorporating reader feedback, and trying to stay positive about the steep curve of rejection I'm about to start stumbling up, but even with all of that I'm still loving the hell out of this process. The crazy long weeks I've been putting in lately meant that suddenly I'd absorbed the entire book into my head, and can picture it as a whole beast rather than the individual sections I'd been working on in the past - a funny zen absorbency situation, just like Neo and his kung-fu. I kinda know the deal with it now - how the book really is, as opposed to how it was as a plan, and what the aftertaste is once you put it down. There are plenty of things about it that I'm not in love with, but it feels like something at least, warts and all. While there were a few moments I cringed at the craptacular, but there were plenty of others where I laughed out loud or felt genuinely stirred. I'm happy. I've learned a lot, and already have plenty of thoughts as to what I'll do better writing the next book. Yes, there's still a pile of that self-doubt rolling around as always, where I'm still asking "Is this good enough?", hoping trained eyes will see enough promise to throw their talents into the manuscript and make it a book. But for my part, I'm happy. It's not finished, but writing a book is something I've done now - the rest from here is a new and different process, one laden with a whole new set of mysteries. 

Anyway, can't sit here blabbing on all day. This phase might be nearly done, but the toughest hurdles are yet to come...

Wish me luck.

Tipping Point

Ok, so I'm back. Last post was July, but who's counting?

Things got a little crunchy on Thor : The Dark World, but I went with it, without complaint, knowing there was a substantial writing break coming once it wrapped. Normally I'd be whining like a baby about a bunch of lost weekends and strings of back-to-back 18-hour days, but not this time. The work was genuinely satisfying - a really fun show to have been on for all sorts of reasons, and I hope it shows.

But, all this talk of Thor is SO last month. October is all about "The Brave". For the patient few who have followed it's meandering journey from afar these many long months, the wait is nearly over. I'm predicting several more weeks before I can release a beta draft to a few testers, but release it I will. Enough is enough. While it's far from a perfect manuscript, it's starting to read like 'a book', one which is about ready to have a shot at standing on it's own two legs, just see what sort of feedback it generates in the wild.

I am still looking for a few more literary randoms out there to donate some reading/commenting time to the cause, in particular "near-total strangers" who don't know enough about me or my history to be able to pick the book up stone cold. (No offence to the rest of you - you're either on the readers-list already or not, based on some really boring demographic criteria. Hell, I've got to save some of you to actually buy the thing...). By all means hit me up if you read a lot of books, won't be upset by the swears and typos, and have your interest piqued when I say : "one man's year-long journey back to relationship enlightenment, set in a quirky, globe-trotting world of sex, drugs and men in kilts". (Hey, so I haven't locked down my final pitch yet. So shoot me.)

For the rest of you, watch this space. I've got some big things in the works - not just the book - and a whole lot of non-vfx-filled time to do it. 

Until then, here's some music to get you into the appropriate frame of mind: Training Montage! :)


Books : The New TV?

I got caught in a conversation this week about the increasing amount of back-turning on traditional cinema in favour of well-constructed television. Good TV isn't a new thing - shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, West Wing, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and more recently House of Cards and hell even Girls have each either pushed a boundary or two, or cemented the art of television as a serious creative medium. Of all the disciplines that go into producing this stuff, the bar raised the highest since the crappy sitcoms of the 80s is arguably the writing. Snappy, intelligent dialog, multiple seasons planned out with meticulous care, characters three dimensional and/or well-researched (certainly a big part of the reason so many big name actors have answered the small-screen's siren call).

It's that writing part which I'm getting at. Whenever I've ended up in discussions about favourite (intelligent) television shows, it always comes back to the characters or the story or the dialog or the way people relate to these manufactured worlds on such a deep, emotional level. Who hasn't slammed through entire seasons of their old fave on a rainy weekend, or marathoned multiples? Found themselves committing eight or twelve or twenty or fifty hours to the cause? 

During one of these recent discussions, throwing awesome programme after awesome programme into the ring and discussing the various merits of the writing and characterisation, I felt a sudden stab : why is it so hard to get (most) people as thirsty and engaged in the same way regarding books? And moreso, as television becomes more and more sophisticated, the layers piled on, much more care taken with the planning and writing of a series, aren't we sharing (and raving about) an intellectual experience that is deliberately heading in the same direction and complexity of good literature? And as viewers, so many of us choosing this meatier, chewier programming - aren't we just crying out for the sort of brain-workout that books have and always will do better? When someone says to me "I don't read much", but then watches hour after hour of meaty television, saying things like "I wish there were more shows just like it" or "it's totally the smartest show on tv", aren't they just gagging for a good book?

When I pose the questions, the common excuse is that of time. Long-form takes too long. Not enough hours in the day. I call bollocks to that. Slamming an entire series of Game Of Thrones - one series covering as much ground as one book, with all the same punch but skimpier on the depth and details - would take me about the same time to read as it would to watch. Even a poor reader could slam through a chapter or two in the time it would take to view a single episode. "Too expensive" is another; buying a book is cheaper than buying a season on DVD, and a public library is cheaper than a Netflix subscription. For the pirates, eBooks are just as free as pirated tv shows, take much less time to download, and can be emailed to your buddies instead of lumbered around on drives. 

Of course the mediums are vastly different, and the benefits of television can't be ignored - slightly more passive, you can "switch off", and new material is often more regularly at hand than new books (i.e. you switch the tv on, the new shows are there ready to go, as opposed to a premeditated trip to the library or bookshop, or an online shopping experience - all more energetic than mindless-passive). I wouldn't try to argue against these things if that's what drives your choices, as particularly the switch-off, I'm totally down with. Nor would I argue against the teleplay itself as being a completely valid art form in it's own right, and that the dramatic/cinematic/televisual arts can be just as stimulating and satisfying as your nightly entertainment without bringing literature into it at all.

But what I will stick with is that when many people will actively praise the complexity of a show's writing, characters, story arcs and high level of intelligence, but then not generally read a lot of books, it's hard to not see this as a total /facepalm. Good literature does do this stuff better. Particularly in series-long story arcs, a book will take up less of your time, offer more detailed characters, provide interior monologue without relying on an actor to bring out those nuances unspoken (or potentially not, if they suck), and give you a far richer amount of the details and layers than you can squish into a few hours of television. You see it all the time in adaptations, especially if you've read the book first. 

And on that thought, it's hard not to jump one step further: if modern television has progressively been getting closer to the intelligence level and complexity of good fiction, where does that path end? Perhaps the rising popularity of the Audio Book format answers this? While being more expensive than both tv and paper or e-books, it does afford (those who can tolerate the slower-than-thought pace of spoken word) the same passive experience television offers, while at the same time giving your brain the same higher-level workout as a good book.

I don't understand why books so often stay on the shelf, why, in this age of highly-intelligent programming, people still think that reading requires you to be more switched-on than your average smart-show, that it's less of an unwind to read when you get home from work. Really? Sorkin's writing for example.... can you really stay switched off with that dialogue? And as for passive, isn't watching an extremely tense episode of, say, a silent, knifey stand-off in a basement meth-lab where barely no words are spoken for 40 minutes but the tension is thick you're nearly pissing your pants.... you call that added stress in your day "passive"? I'm not saying books are smarter, less intense, or any of that, but I'm just saying I could make the same excuses about most of the first-rate shows out there as its viewers often accuse of books.

Each to their own, but if you do like the chunky stuff, try a bit of balance. Trust me - if you haven't picked up a book at all this week but you're currently counting down the weeks for your favourite show to come back from the mid-season break (filling the hours you normally would with repeats, classic series-slamming) then you're kinda missing out...

Now: where's that remote.... 

Words, words, words.

I finished reading The Brave last night. After taking a few weeks off after finishing the draft - just to clear the air - the read-through took a lot longer than expected, in part due to how much more closely I was paying attention to it than a regular novel-smash. Also, I took a lot of notes.

The verdict? 

It's a book. Definitely a book. Particularly from about half way to the end it felt like something, albeit a messy kind of something. Having said that, the first few chapters are a different beast; five chapters in, I was actually starting to feel something close to despair. I finally understood what they mean when folks describe their early drafts as utter rubbish. Salvageable, yes, but still rubbish. If it weren't for the fact I seemed to find my stride at a particular moment in the book, then hold the same level fairly consistently through to the end, I'd be heavily entering the murky realms of self-doubt.

Once I did get to the end, I was pleased. Proud even, if one is allowed to be at such an early juncture. It's definitely a "first book", in that it's not that complicated, not that heavily layered, and the subject matter is fairly straight-forward, but at the same time I did find myself entertained, chuckling at some of the characters, and feeling for (at least some) of the characters. It's hard to read something you've been so immersed in for so long, but if anything, the fact that it had taken me so long to write afforded me a certain distance from particularly the earlier half of the book, and I did find myself coming into certain scenes quite cold, unable to recall exactly how I'd written through. There were no surprises (beyond a couple of classic typo's... I actually used my own name in dialog at one point by mistake, twice on the one page.... who knows what that was all about.... The annotation (for correction) I left in the margin was simply : "LOL"...) but I did feel I was reading certain lines or paragraphs quite fresh.

Hopefully, for the last time. Now shit gets real. The next time I sit down for a scheduled writing session, it's game on. I know what I need to do to pull the early structure back into line. I'm absolutely GAGGING to get finished with the structural reshuffling and start looking at each and every paragraph, sentence and word, and working on my economics. I'm really, really looking forward to ditching - entirely - the chapter now formerly known as Chapter Three, razed ruthlessly and dissolving back into the ether from whence it came by the time I do the next full read.  

Exciting times, though who can tell? The whole process so far has proven that yes, I enjoy the hell out of writing, but that life does indeed get in the way when you're still trying to hold down a day job. I wonder if I'll get there? To that place where I'm actually smashing out words all day long, instead of smashing out slap-comps for the shooty-bang-bang car-chase action movie? (Side note : not that I'm not enjoying vfx at the moment. It's strange - I've had a complete revival of enthusiasm for the job since getting to London. The change was as good as a holiday, and while I still do plan on moving on eventually, I'm not hating my days at all right now.)

I shouldn't get hung up on the time it takes though. Nobody else is. I'm getting a few "shit... how long have you been working on that now" comments of late, but internally I'm pretty aware of how long this stuff takes now, especially when you're only getting to it for a few hours a few times a week.

I'll get there. It's still a steaming great mess, there'll be hair-pulling, grunts, speaking in tongues and moments of madness, but I will get there.