WTF Wednesdays – Exodus: Gods and Kings… White Washing?

From time to time, the Hollywood establishment likes to dust off some old stories and do a big batch of remakes that gives them the chance to show they think they can do better than the previous generation. One of the patterns of this cycle is to dig up old biblical narratives and start remaking movies about those. This means that, at least once a generation, we start to see a batch of religious stories given the big Hollywood treatment. There was recently Noah, talk of a new Ben-Hur coming in 2016, and the decision to remake the Left Behind franchise with someone who hadn’t lost their damned mind like Kirk Cameron.

Oohh… So close.

So, of course, it was time to remake the granddaddy of them all and go straight for the tale of Exodus. Exodus has been turned into several movies and some of them have turned out rather well while others… did not. Though often overlooked, Prince of Egypt was one of the better animated films of the late 90s. Meanwhile, The Reaping, which tried to take the story of Exodus and turn it into a modern day horror premise was considered by most critics to have been a steaming pile of crap. In fact, if you were to ask the right person, they’d probably tell you it solidified “Hillary Swank movies” as the newly discovered 11th plague of Egypt.

Though that was hinted at earlier

So of course it was time for someone else to take a swing at it, and that person was going to be Ridley Scott. Of course Ridley Scott working a religious epic was a good idea because if that man knows how to do anything it’s to make you absolutely terrified of the shit you can’t see.

“Have you heard the good news?”

Just one problem: people looked at the IMDB page and found it somewhat wanting of melanin.

Well, it’s understandable. There are some black guys there like the thief, the assassin, and the lower class guys. It’s not like this story is set in Africa… wait. Continue reading WTF Wednesdays – Exodus: Gods and Kings… White Washing?

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Legend of Korra: Victim of Casual Stupid

Years ago, the basic cable channel Nickelodeon took a risk on an animated series brought to them by a pair of guys with a 10 minute pilot film produced by a Korean animation studio. The product they got was Avatar: The Last Airbender – one of the most original American animation projects in decades. Frankly, Nickelodeon executives weren’t sure what they had at the time. So it made sense that they only paid only for the first 7 episodes with further episodes to be determined as they went. It soon extended the order to 14 and, before long, ended up with 60 episodes for a series that had been an unknown quantity not long before.

It was a smash hit.

Nickelodeon suddenly had a series that was regularly garnering 4 million viewers an episode, with the final episodes reaching a spectacular 5 million viewers – unheard of for basic cable, especially animation. With charm, style and a more inclusive world view featuring the cultures of many races and religions, Avatar was easily one of the biggest surprise hits of its time. And it came to an end on an incredible high note, leaving everyone, especially the fans, wondering what was to come from the creative minds that brought it to the screen.

Then there was an unfortunate detour: a man who shall remain nameless was put at the helm of a live action movie. And, in ironic fashion, despite being of Indian descent, the man at the helm decided to make decidedly darker characters surprisingly white. Combined with a bad screenplay, stilted dialogue, horrible acting, broken direction, and a hefty dose of exposition – the movie bombed. The very feel of the franchise was gone, washed away in the director’s ego and mismanagement of the film. And, worse, the producers mismanaged it as well by handing it to him in the first place. Fans were, needless to say, not happy.

But then good news was on the horizon and the original creators were back with a brand new story in the same world. They introduced us to Korra, the next Avatar and the reincarnation of Aang, the protagonist of the first series. Korra was tough, energetic, enthusiastic and brimming with personality. She was a strong female character done RIGHT and with a touch of understanding as to who the audience was and where the franchise could go to keep feeling fresh.

Unfortunately, Nickelodeon didn’t see it this way and decided that the series that brought them 5 million viewers the last time they aired it suddenly wasn’t trustworthy. They started to throttle the production of the series and downgraded it into a mini-series before eventually realizing this new chapter was just as popular as the last and green-lighting production of a full series.

Why did they strangle their franchise with indecisiveness? Well, according to at least two people behind the scenes: because Korra was a girl.

And the comedy of errors began… Continue reading Legend of Korra: Victim of Casual Stupid

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Pacing Part 3 – The Essentials

Pacing and structure, undeniably connected to each other. In the last few entries, born out of my inability to keep my head up long enough to do any research outside of what I already knew, I’ve discussed the structure of story telling to explain how it relates to pacing. When your structure is good, when your story is built right, the pacing takes care of itself. Someone who is entertained and invested in what you’re showing them will not complain about how fast or slow it’s gone, except the sometimes complimentary, “it ended too soon for me”.

But when I started this, I said that a lot of writers were learning things backwards. Certain more sophisticated structures have been taught as basics – essential and required. It leaves some people unable to adapt to situations that require them to change the way they normally work. If television requires you to write five acts but you’re only comfortable with three, it makes sense that you’d have some troubles adjusting. If you’re writing a novel having learned the three act structure, you may be handling your chapter structure incorrectly. Becoming too dependent on more sophisticated structures and formulas can be an issue that many new writers have to resolve over time.

But there are shared elements of structure and pacing that exist throughout storytelling. Just because the overarching formulas don’t always translate from one media to the next doesn’t mean that the fundamentals don’t exist. But the fundamentals often get muddied and buried by other forms. In fact, many people learn the true fundamentals second or third while others don’t learn them at all.

So today, as my final entry before I start digging back into Alternative Mythologies, I’m going to cover… Continue reading Pacing Part 3 – The Essentials

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Pacing Part 2 – The Rhythm of Screenwriting

Pacing is the lifeblood of what we do as writers. Though there are a lot of ways to make your work sink or swim, poor pacing is one of the most common errors a writer can commit. The old critique that it felt “too short” or, worse, “it never ended” is one that echoes in the dark recesses of our minds. To really progress from amateurs to professional writers we have to ensure that we understand the idea of pacing and how it interacts with audiences on a fundamental level. Though we’ve evolved intelligence, deep down there’s an animal instinct that’s hard to fight.

Too fast and the audience can’t follow, too slow and the audience gets bored. On the surface, these look like two very different problems. But both of these directions often have the same root cause: a misunderstanding of the nature of pacing.

In my last entry I covered how the most commonly taught format for story telling, the three act structure, is actually a product of its origins and may not actually be the “most basic form”. As I described there, novels long ago picked up a structure of their own that worked better for their format when they created chapters. The pacing of a novel depends upon getting a good feel for the length of chapters. The pacing for a comic book depends on understanding that each panel is its own moment in time. The pacing of plays and television shows depend on building acts which peak just in time for the curtain to fall or the commercial to break.

What about the pacing of film? What does film really have to provide it a steady structure? Well for that you have… Continue reading Pacing Part 2 – The Rhythm of Screenwriting

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Pacing Part 1 – Know Your Structure

A few years ago I named this blog as a tongue-in-cheek reference to my sometimes crippling allergies. While many people get simple hayfever over exposure to certain particles in the air, I’ve been known to have flu-like symptoms and migraines.  It’s not completely horrible, however, since the combination of these allergies and my medications either puts me into deep sleep with vivid dreams or a half-awake, half-dead zombie state where I daydream constantly. This would still be horrible for most people, except I am a professional bullshit artist (writer) and these dreams sometimes inspire new ideas. For someone who lives a fairly sober lifestyle, this is a momentary glance into the kind of hallucinogenic state that inspired Mary Shelley, Jules Verne and whoever came up with that Charlie Sheen character.

The problem is that working on something serious, such as this blog, is almost inconceivable when in this altered state. I give it my best shot but at a certain point I’m incapable of tasks such as research, assembling random facts into a coherent form, and most especially making it readable. So, while I had plans for the end of last week and the beginning of this week, I’d forgotten that the whole country was going to dump one mighty fuckton of smoke into the atmosphere all at once.

Point is, plans change and instead of trying to tackle more African mythology as part of the continuing Alternative Mythologies series today, I’ll be writing about one of the few things I could think about in the last few days… Continue reading Pacing Part 1 – Know Your Structure

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Alternative Mythology – So about Horus…

Some months ago, a group of people several thousand strong gathered together and began to play a game of Pokemon in the most inefficient way possible: by all playing the same game at once. Twitch Plays Pokemon was a thing for a while as the group did their damn best to control a child who they’d decided had a schizophrenic mental episode and was following the commands of every voice in his head. But along the way, one thing to come out of it was a religious satire in the nature of “Lord Helix” the helix fossil they frequently went to for advice, and his only begotten Pidgeot, Abba, the Bird Jesus, who followed the philosophy of “do unto others” over and over through literal interpretation by reflecting attacks right back at his enemies.

But this was not the first bird variation of Jesus to roam the internet. For the first, you’d have to go to the time when the internet discovered the ancient legends of Horus, a child born to a (technical) virgin mother and had to be hidden away from the king of the land to prevent his death. He wandered the desert, undertook great tests and became the king of kings, the savior of Egypt.

Only the truth is, Jesus’ story is a straightforward affair with few twists and turns: he was born of a virgin, had miraculous powers and was eventually betrayed. Horus’ story is a bit more… insane. And because of that, I intend to recount: Continue reading Alternative Mythology – So about Horus…

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WTF Wednesdays: Coming soon to Fo-…oops, cancelled

So as I’ve been writing the Alternative Mythologies series of posts I’ve been aiming to try to point out that there are more sources to be used than the typical Eurocentric folklore that has dominated much of the fantasy genre. In the course of that, as of just this week I’ve covered Egypt and pointed out that it would be just a wonderful idea to use it because it could be used in literally any fashion you need to.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out that Fox had green-lit the production of a show called Hieroglyph, an ancient Egyptian fantasy series created by Travis Beacham of Pacific Rim fame. It was like TV was listening to me already, and apparently Fox was so in love with the concept and Travis’ work up to that point that they skipped right on past making the pilot and instead ordered a full 13 episodes to begin production immediately. There’s advertising for it already with promotional shots of the cast in full costume and looking all Egyptian and the first episode has already filmed and they’ve begun production on the next 12 episodes and-…

Oh, it’s cancelled already.

WTF Fox? Continue reading WTF Wednesdays: Coming soon to Fo-…oops, cancelled

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Writing Fantasies: Alternate Mythologies Part 5 – Lesser Known Egypt

As I prepared to dive into the topics of Africa’s mythology for the sake of our Alternate Mythologies series, I wondered about whether or not I should actually cover Egypt. Egypt, being so closely associated to several empires that formed around the Mediterranean and Middle East, is one of the few places in Africa that we are familiar with in some fashion. But as I was considering it I realized that, despite our familiarity with who they are, we really have very little clue when it comes to their ancient religion.

In the west, we all know a few things about Egypt. First, we know they built pyramids and a sphinx that are iconic and have existed for so long that we wonder why we can’t get a cell-phone battery that doesn’t flake out on us in the modern day. Second, they believed cats were sacred, setting up the ground work for the internet as we know it. Third, they lived on the River Nile. Fourth, Cleopatra was, for a time, queen of the Nile, or queen of denial, depending on who you ask. And fifth, they worshipped the sun because you don’t want to anger that thing while living in the desert.

So, in the spirit of “the wisest man is the one who admits he knows nothing” I will now show you a handful of elements from Egyptian mythology that we in the west typically don’t hear anything about. So let’s begin today’s Alternate Mythology… Continue reading Writing Fantasies: Alternate Mythologies Part 5 – Lesser Known Egypt

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