Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Wonderful World of Internets

(before I begin my post, I just wanted to offer this caustic reminder that my new novel, The Other Side of the Gate, is now on sale at most of your online booksellers, such as Barnes & Hooray for shameless plugs!)

Besides being a novel writer, I also happen to be a part of an independent, Phoenix-based film company called Squishy Studios. I help with a lot of the writing and story-building processes with their films, which are mostly comedy shorts at the moment, though I'm clearly only a small part of a very talented group of filmmakers. There are a number of examples of our shorts available for viewing on the studio's website, so I hope you will feel free to hop over there and see them (don't worry, there's nothing objectionable there, unless you're offended by silly humor).

But before I go off and write a link-heavy post here sending you to the far corners of Internet obscurity, I thought I would muse a little about the differences I've noticed between novel writing and filmmaking. Yes, naturally, there are many differences that should be quite obvious. Chief among them is that, once a novel is done (including editing and proofreading), it is finished. Completing a screenplay, while daunting, is only the beginning of the filmmaking process (though I've personally discovered that it's usually the last point in a production where I personally feel useful).

I think many of us, back when we were younger (and perhaps even now), were taken by the prospect of fooling around with our parent's camcorder and making our own "Moo-V's". My friends and I were not exception, and the early results were about what you would expect - silly video of unedited and often incomprehensible movies with kids running around in bad costumes and even worse dialogue. I think in most cases, kids like us would have eventually dropped to movie-making kick once the novelty wore off, but it was our good fortune to have among us one who began to show some talent and more importantly, a determination to grow and become a legitimate filmmaker.

Chances are, you've never heard of Nathan Blackwell (unless I already know you and you've actually confounded my expectations by visiting my new blog), but he is a very talented writer/director with two independent feature films and several award-winning shorts under his belt. He is also my best friend, and someone who I've known for over 20 years now. At the risk of sounding sappy, it's been my privilege to know him, and I hope it will continue to be for many years to come. (pardon while I wipe away a tear)

Anyhow, in my numerous collaborations with Nathan, I have repeatedly learned how astonishingly stringent the rules of screenwriting are in comparison with novel writing. Unlike a novel, the writer isn't at nearly as much liberty to stretch or break the rules that govern their respective craft. Film scripts, at least "commercially viable" scripts, are fairly rigidly structured, and usually have requisite story properties which in a novel, are often considered to be formulaic. However, without these guidelines, a film is in danger of drifting, or even losing the audience completely.

Unlike novels, movies are above all a visual medium. They use the visuals on the screen to tell the story every bit as much as what the characters say and do. Like a novel's narration, the cinematic quality of a film will make or break it, regardless of how good the story within it might be. Novels, on the other hand, are completely dependent on the reader's capacity to imagine the scenes that it sets. That the narrative describes the scene and how it does so is at least as important as what happens in that scene. While a screenwriter can leave scene-setting to the director, the novel writer has to create a vivid picture in the reader's mind's-eye before he or she can even start to tell the story. This is probably one of the many reasons why film adaptations of books is so often hit-and-miss.

Though the time constraints can so often be frustrating to a novelist's mind like mine, the rewards of filmmaking are vast. Not the least of which is the experience of watching others view your work, and seeing their natural reaction to it as it happens. I've tried watching family and friends as they've read my written work, and it only seems to unnerve them.

It's also still possible to tell a broader story with film as well. Squishy Studios is taking part in the production of a new web series to premiere this Halloween about a neighborhood filled with a rogues gallery of curious characters, like an exiled wizard and his two children, a frustrated mad scientist and his alien wife posing as a homemaker, an unflappable scoundrel whose creepy informality keeps everyone a bit on edge, and a bemused FBI agent assigned to watch them all.

It's called Normally This Weird (you had to know that there was another link coming, didn't you?), and I'm very happy to be a part of the creative end of this particular project. After the extended pilot episode is released, we'll be releasing 6-minute episodes once a month for the next year or so, and we're hoping to make it a smashing success!

Between this, writing my next book, and promoting my current one, I'll have a lot of projects on my plate for a while. It's good to keep busy though. Besides, if it weren't involved with Squishy Studios, I would have never gotten my own listing on the Internet Movie Database!

Ah, I'm pretty new to this whole self-promotion thing, so if I'm going overboard with all of the links, someone will let me know, right?

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