Sunday, July 25, 2010

Attack Of The Mini-Blog 2: Return Of The Killer Mini-Blog

An Ill Wind Is Blowing. And Sneezing.

I always get rather guilty when I get sick, much in the same way that other people get blocked noses. Ok, so I get those too, but I also get guilt.

Allow me to elaborate.

It can be argued that I am rather tougher on myself than I am on other people. A friend has kindly put this as "You hold yourself to a very high standard", which is much nicer than saying I do not esteem myself highly. Part of this materialises in a desire to not let other people down, which reflects in my day job just as much anything else. So whenever I'm sick, I start to worry (frequently as I'm busy coughing my lungs out) that possibly I'm just putting it on and I should really just get back to work, you slacker.

My doctor, bless his quite-possibly-although-I've-never-actually-examined-them-in-them-in-great-detail cotton socks, does his best to talk me out of this point of view, and when I took Monday off due to ill health and went to see him fully expecting to be told to get back to work and stop wasting his time (despite being sick for 4 days already) he subtly asked me if I could take a little time off work and when confirmed he leapt on the chance and told me to stay home for the rest of the week.

Though I was initially against the idea in the long run it's turned out to be a very good thing. I was reaching burn out point and this seems to have headed it off at the pass, meaning I am pretty much back at full energy. It also in some says feels like a fresh start, as work, writing, and my current self tutoring projects were all put on hold in favour of giving this whole rest thing a shot, and can now approach them with a fresh eye after the break.

Bring it on. Of course, bring it on-in-a-slighty-less-hectic-way-than-before, but the on shall nevertheless be brung. Or brought.

It's good to be back.

It's Important To Have The Heart Of A Child. I Keep It In A Jar.

Recently I attended a 21st birthday party that could be described as atypical in that it started reasonably early in the evening and didn't involve the consumption of alcohol. Instead it was filled with Pinatas, Junk Food, Board and Video Games, DVDs and Theatre Sports.

In a word, it was awesome. (That's actually three, but lets not mince words. It'd make a terrible mess) And it made me consider that many of the my preferred activities are probably atypical to conventional stereotypical adult society, to whit, I don't drink, don't do drugs, don't follow a football team, don't go out to pubs or parties, and instead prefer the company of small groups of friends, and spend my time with films, video games, and general hanging out.

This is, in fact, pretty much what I did as a child, and pretty much what I did in high school. To be honest, most of the typically "adult" activities don't interest me for the most part, and if I enjoyed the things I did when I was younger, I don't see much of a reason to stop them and start doing things I don't enjoy simply because I've passed the 21 year mark. There are certainly things, such as work, relationships and future long term plans, that are definately the focus of my adult life, just as "going to school" was my focus while I was going to school.

But my hobbies are unchanged, and are in all honesty unlikely to change. Because I'm an adult now.

You can't tell me what to do. Stop it. No you stop it. MUUUUUUUUUUUUUM!

A Short Review Of The Film Inception, By Sam Mellor.

Inception was INCREDIBLY AMAZING. See it.

Also, I like milo.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Diary Of A Mad Writer #8 - So The Foresight Had Some Insight, In The Light Of Hindsight. (Thankyou, Bernard)

As I look towards the future, I've decided it might be a good time to take a step forwards and take the opportunity to look back at the previous projects I have begun, both to get an indication of the work I've done so far, and to see if there are any works that may be worth salvaging and updating for future use. Or to put it simply, in order to move forward I've looked backwards and taken the past to use in the future, and find to think forwards, one must in truth, think backwards, but only in a back to front forward thinking way.

Allow me to elaborate.

Or at least, to stop talking nonsense.

I've about ten years worth of various projects on my computer, not all of them finished. Sadly I don't seem to have anything from before this, as I appear to have deleted it all (or at least, not backed up my files when we changed computers). It was probably terrible, as it was all from 16 years and under, but I'd have liked the opportunity to have said that myself.

As my current main goal is to get something published in a sci-fi/fantasy magazine within (hopefully) the next six months, I've been going through my old files to see if there was anything that could be polished up and submitted as is. the outlook so far, is not good. Out of all the files I've been through, they have all broadly fallen into one of the following categories:

1. Too Short - The magazines I have found have a minimum word count of 2000 words, quite a few of my short stories fall around the 1600 mark.

2. Too Long - Most of the other stories I have exceed the maximum length (8000 words)

3. Wrong Genre - Many of those that are neither too long or too short are in fact too 'not science fiction or fantasy', making them difficult to submit to a sci-fi/fantasy magazine.

4. Wrong Format - Written for radio, film, television, or theatre. Could possibly be rewritten, but most of them fall into category 1, 2, or 3 anyway.

5. Atrocities - Awful work, kept because I no longer wish to throw any stories out, but deserving to be burnt in a fire(wall).

After you throw out all of those, you're not really left with anything, except for a couple of recent projects that fit the bill perfectly, except they fall into category 6: Not finished yet.

However, while looking through the pieces I discoverd a bunch of longer stories I had begun but never conituned beyond about the 10th chapter (or in one case, the 2nd page). As it turns out there's a reason for this which is probably deserves its own blog, but looking through them I was actually rather pleased with what I'd written so far. So I've dug them out and am editing them between calls at work in an attempt to bring them up to spec, and then can look at either finishing them, or adapting them into shorter works that would be suitable for submission.

So is there anything I can submit now? No. But there are plenty of things I will be able to submit, once they're done.

Assuming I don't change computers anytime soon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance To Oh Crap It's Half Past Six!

There have been many strategies over the years as to the best way to get out of bed in the morning, with limited scucess. I have been told to try putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room, to keep slippers by the bed, and on one rather bizarre occassion, to tie a peice of string to my toe and through some mechanical genius enable it to be tugged sharpy in the morning, thus waking me up (and hoping there's not a power surge, causing the machine to overload and leaving me toeless). However, I have discovered that nothing wakes you up more effectively than not getting up.

Allow me to elaborate.

I currently work in a position that for the first half of the week requires me to begin work at eight. To follow this backwards in a logical progression, that means I need to be at the office at 7:40 (as when my public transport is late, it's VERY late...), which means I need to catch a 7:00 train, which means I need to leave the house at 6:40, wich means I need to be up at 5:40, which means I need to set my first alarm at 5:30.

This is not by way of complaining, but rather to point out the timing involved. There are plenty of people for whom 5:30 would seem like a luxurious sleep in (or indeed for those unfortunate overnight workers, time for lunch). And there are definite advantages to starting work early, namely that you finish work early, particularly if you're a slack part time worker like myself. So all in all I'm actually rather glad to be working so early.

But my body clock still hasn't quite adjusted. Previously I worked until 11:30 at night, so I used to rise at about 9 or 10 in the morning and could enjoy a leisurely afternoon until it was time to leave. Now I need to be out of the house in an hour, which includes showering, shaving, dressing, eating breakfast, and remembering hat scarf, ipod, wallet, keys, and so forth. I say an hour because it allows me to not rush and instead be able to enjoy breakfast and a coffee before I go (as work for all it's free coffeeness frequently fails to comprehend that some wild crazy people enjoy non-off milk in their coffee on a Monday morning), but it can certainly done in a shorter time.

As I discovered this morning.

I use my mobile phone as an alarm clock as I generally leave it on anyway in case somebody needs anything, and also because it has the handy ability to set multiple alarms, so I generally set one alarm for 5:30 and the next for 5:40 as the first will generally wake me up, and the 2nd will wake me up just as I'm starting to fall back to sleep. This morning I cleverly managed, while turning off the first alarm, to reset my 2nd alarm for 4:40. So I awoke, (feeling sleepy but curiously refreshed), expecting it to be a couple of minutes before 5:40 to find it was, in fact, 6:27.

I have never woken up faster.
On the plus side, I have discovered that if the house were about to be sucked into a black hole in fourteen minutes time I don't need to worry as I can still shower, dress and pack a few things and be out of there in thirteen minutes, but on the downside I appear to have used up all the energy my body had allotted for today in about, oh, thirteen minutes as it happens. The first thing I did when I got to the office was to make a coffee, and was very glad to see that for once the fridge wasn't full of expired milk.

It was, however, full of no milk whatsoever, but mustn't grumble.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Diary Of A Mad Writer #7 - Project Updates

I seem to have story ideas coming out of my ears at the moment, although possibly it's just wax. Either way I have a lot of ideas to write and I'm having a little trouble deciding which to write first, and indeed what style to write them in. Largely it comes down to what I can do with them once they are done.

Allow me to elaborate.

Current project ideas:

1. - "Mistake In Identity." Short comedy film about someone who is convinced a deceased celebrity is hiding out in their local supermarket, despite the fact that the person in question doesn't resemble the celebrity.

Neat idea, low budget requirements and high chance of being turned into a finished project with film group.

2. - "Midas." Long form fantasy adventure featuring dreams, princesses, robot demons and changing worlds when you sleep.

Pet project for the last year or so, still struggling with style and of course the difficulty of publishing once complete.

3. - "MI8" Long form crime/fantasty thriller about secret magic government organisations.

Style downpat and 12 chapters complete, again the issue of getting published.

4. - "The Last Chicken In The Shop" Short Story. Have had the plot worked out for some years about a machine that can make anything out of anything, and gets quite abstract when you ask it to make people you don't like no longer exist...

Working on finding the best tone. Until recently unable to think of what to do with it once it's done (apart from publish online), but recently hit upon the idea of submitting to fantasty/sci-fi magazines.

5. - "The War of The Bear." Teddy Bear story about two brands of bears in a toy shop (the Russel bears and the Jonathan bears) and the xenophobia and fighting that ensues when the new bears arrive in the shop. Eventually everyone is destroyed and put back together from all the different parts.

Told as a creation myth (and therefore very hard to write). Useful as a spring board to other stories.

6. - "A Sword In The Hand, A Pick In The Lock" Fantasy Comedy Adventure story about two treasure hunters, their priest treasure hunting wannabe groupie, and their plan to break into an evacuated underground city and steal all their gold.

A chance to use fast paced dialogue and one liners without it getting too much in the way of the story, but heavy editing required to make sure it doesn't go overboard. Emphasis on action sequences. Planning to submit to magazines or journals once done.

I've started doing some reasearch into fantasy and science fiction journals which will hopefully assist in getting an increase in published work. I figure since I'm at the point where I'm attempting to pursue this, I need to get as much work submitted as possible, so I'll be working to submit as much as I can for the rest of the year. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Welcome To Your Mid Year Review, Please Sit Down

Well, the first half of the year is over (or if you're financially minded, the first half of the year has only just begun, so well done on catching up to the rest of us). Summer has been and gone (and good riddance), winter has properly arrived (Hello Winter), tax returns are now submittable (yet despite the offer of free money, many won't bother to do them until the night before the deadline, proving once and for all that this is NOT just a student thing), and christmas is now only 180 days away. Not that we're counting. It's also six months since I took my first steps towards pursuing a future in writing, rather than just writing as much as I could around full time work ("as much as I could" = "not a lot"). So it's time for a review.

Allow me to elaborate.

Six months ago (not to scale) I begun looking for part time work, with the interest of pursuing side projects such as theatre, film, and video games (the making, not the attending, watching, and playing of, respectively). By the end of January I had moved into a new position away from my previous employer and begun my new part time work. At roughly the same time I began work on my writing projects. This was very much a test to see if a) I could get by on a part time income, and b) whether I could productive enough to continue to produce material on an expanded basis.

So here is a comparison and review for 2010 compared to 2009, to swell my ego with the helium of success and puncture it with the thumb tacks of failure.

2010 so far: A review and comparison. (Titles by Warren Zevon)

Lawyers, Guns and Money: The financial stuff.

Savings mid 2009: $5000.00
Expensive holidays to the UK: 1
Savings mid 2010: $0

Unfulfilling Full Time Jobs 2009: 1
Unfulfilling Part Time Jobs 2009: 0

Unfulfilling Full Time Jobs 2010: 0
Unfulfilling Part Time Jobs 2010: 1

Number of credit cards mid 2009: 2
Number of credit cards mid 2010: 0!

Expensive medical tests 2009: 0
Number of chronic back injuries: 1

Expensive medical tests 2010: 2
Number of congenitive heart diseases: 0!
Number of chronic back injuries: 1

Personal Loans 2009: 1
Personal Loans 2010: 1

Lottery wins: 0
Lottery entries: 0
Results: Inconclusive.

Non-essential purchases: Too many.

Comments: Great improvement in debt reduction, but poor saving results.
Goal for rest of 2010: Save some cash up for visiting Dad in Perth, laptop. Less debt = good.

Johnny Strikes Up The Band: The creative stuff.

Number of plays produced 2009: 0
Number of plays produced 2010: 1

Number of short films written 2009: 0
Number of short films written 2010: 1

Number of novels written 2009: 0
Number of novels written 2010: 0.1

Knowledge of computer prorgramming and level design 2009: None.
Knowledge of computer prorgramming and level design 2010: a bit.

Number of sword fights won with pens: 0
Number of sword fights lost with pens: 0
Results: Inconclusive.

Number of Fish in Black cartoons 2009: 0
Number of Fish in Black cartoons 2010: 0
Sighs: Many.

World Hunger ended through power of written word: Still none.

Comments: Undeniably a great improvement, but more could still have been done in the time available. Procrastination is a harsh mistress.
Goal for rest of 2010: Finish level design course, write additional films. Resume Fish In Black. Release website.

Excitable Boy: The Misc stuff.

New Years Eve spent 2009: Brunswick
New Years Eve spent 2010: York

Love of Beatles mid 2009: 0
Love of Beatles mid 2010: 9000

Xbox 360 Gamerscore end of 2009: 19850
Xbox 360 Gamescore mid 2010 30071.
Conclusions: Worrying.

Favourite Band: Barenaked Ladies
Favourite Game: Mass Effect 2
Favourite Film: Toy Story 3.
Favourite Pretzel: Don't really eat pretzels.

Outlook: Positive.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 9: Toy Story 3

It has previously been established that I am somewhat of a Pixar fan. Indeed, while there are other films that I consider a must see at the cinema (Tim Burton still manages to get me interested in his movies, though with decreasing optimism as the years go by, and I'll be first in line for the Sherlock Holmes sequel), Pixar movies are really the only movies that I would feel genuinely disappointed if I missed.

Allow me to elaborate.

Toy Story 3 is of some significance as far as Pixar goes since it is a) the sequel to the film that shot them to stardom and b) 11 years since Toy Story 2. It's quite the trend to do sequels or 'reboots' of decades old movies these days, (TMNT, Indiana Jones, and Predator, I'm looking squarely at you) which I assume means kicking something while it's down, and the quality of most reboots would seem to bear this theory out. I can't help but feel pity for the marketing executive who puts his hand up in the meeting and says "You know, I think the world is ready for another Friday the 13th..." I suppose it's only a matter of time before we see Rebel Without A Cause: The Next Generation starring the son of James Dean's character going through an surprisingly similiar situation (but with better hair), and Gone With The Wind II: The Quickening, but in the mean time I hope they're a long way off.

Nonetheless I was very excited to hear that Pixar had taken over the development of Toy Story 3 from Disney. Let me summarise in this one act play: (for a less abysmal rendition, check out the excellent "Pixar Story" documentary on the Wall-E special edition dvd)

John Lasseter: Yo Disney!(1) this whole 3d animation thing is pretty cool. We should try it.
The CEO of Disney: Is it faster?
John: No.
Disney: Is it cheaper?
John: No.
Disney: Then you're fired.
John: Oh no! What will I do now?
Steve Jobs: Hey John, I'm interested in new technologies, want to come work for me?
John: Do I have use a mac?
Steve: ...maybe.
John: Well, I guess so. Hey while you're there, I've got this great idea for a portable music device that you can carry around with you, but doesn't require any tapes. (2)
Steve: Now that's just crazy talk John.


Disney: Hey John! That Toy Story thing you're working on looks pretty sweet. We always knew this 3d animation thing was going to be huge. Want us to market it?
John: Sure! All is forgiven. But hey, you seem to be churning out all of these sequels lately, and we're really proud of our characters. Would you mind if we handled the sequels for our characters?
Disney: Johnny. Would I do a thing like that? Of course you can do the sequels! To show you how genuine I am, lets not worry about contracts or anything like that. We'll call it... a gentleman's agreement. Would I break a gentleman's agreement Johnny?
John: Well, no, I guess you wouldn't. Ok, let's shake on it.
Disney: Johnny, buddy! Business partners don't shake.
John: Oh.


Disney: Hey John? It's Disney! Those movies are doing great. Toy Story 2 was great! You're great! That's why we're so proud that Toy Story 3 is being made.
John: Thanks! But, um... we're not making Toy Story 3...
Disney: I didn't say you were.
John: Oh. But you said...
Disney: Is there a contract?
John: No, but you said...
Disney: Did we shake on it?
John: No, but there was a gentleman's agreement...
Disney: That doesn't sound like something I'd say.
John: Oh. Well, I'm sorry, but we probably need to find someone else to market our films then.
Disney: That's fine, we're better off without you anyway. Oh, and we're shutting down our 2d animation unit and focussing on 3d from now on.
John: ...WHAT?


New Disney CEO: Hey, um, John, it's the new CEO of Disney. Yeah we fired the old one for being stupid. Listen, we're kind of in a bind here, all of our 3d films have done really badly, people are going to see Pixar films. They seem to prefer smart, clever, well written movies instead of, you know, bad ones. And I was wondering, you know, if I took you out to dinner, maybe go see a show, if, well, maybe we could patch things up again.
John: Of course, lets see what we can do. But can we have Toy Story 3 back?
Disney: Done.
John: And, sorry, but you gotta open up the 2d animation unit again. That was really stupid.
Disney: ...ok, done.
John: Come on, lets go to dinner. Oh, and Disney?
Disney: Yeah?
John: Bring your cheque book.

Anyway, Toy Story 3 was released last week. The family are getting around to go and see it, but I decided that I would go and see it myself in the meantime and hoped that it'd be good enough to see again with the family. Fortunately my hopes were not in vain.

When you do a sequel 11 years later you have two options. You can pretend that no time has passed at all and just explain away the quaver in the actor's voices as a bad cough, and the lines under their eyes as battle scars. Or you can take the "Cystal Skull" approach and just pretend that everyone took desk jobs for the last ten years and only now has something interesting happened. With animation it's tempting to do the former as you can draw the characters the same way you always have but Pixar rather interestingly chosen the latter, with the toy's owner Andy now 17 and heading to college and the toy's locked away in a toy chest fearing their future. Themes of fear, abandonment, and being outgrown have always run rife through the Toy Story franchise (and is responsible for some of it's darker moments) so the new time period works wonderfully. There is a certain sadness to hear the toys talk about those who are no longer with them, and their plans for the future.

The film maintains the charm of the previous films with the same antics and silly humour just as prevalent. What was more surprising was the genuinely dark moments that enter the story. Partially is due to the story itself, with the sense of lonliness and loss that drives the action. All the toys really want is to be played with one more time. There are moments of horror when seeming wonderlands reveal their darker undersides, and a surprising moment near the end when for once everything genuinely seems lost, and you forget for a moment you're watching a bunch of toys.

It's not quite perfect, the opening sequence is rifed with "mystical" line repititions (Pirates of the Carribean I am blaming you. "Why is the rym gone?" was an amusing line in the first film. The end. You did not need to ensure it was repeated in every single sequel with a kind of mystical significance. The same goes for those sea turtles.) that are a bit of a detraction from immersion, and there is one (but only one is pretty good by most films standards) solution to a problem that feels a bit cheap, but these are small concerns compared to an excellent story, great humour, and superb visuals.

What was almost as interesting as the film itself was the audience. I caught a 4:30 afternoon session in the school holidays, and the adults out numbered the kids by about ten to one. There were people ranging from parents to older citizens, from businessmen to cool and hip teenagers in hoods and far, far too low pants. Most of these people went on their own, or with a few friends of the same age. Most didn't bring children to this arguably kids film. They all clapped, they all laughed. On the way out of the cinema I passed a line of five people on their mobiles calling their friends and family to tell them how great it was and how they had to go see it.

I ruminated as I walked home, rugged up against the cold and rain in jacket, scarf and hat (and enjoying this immensely) that evidently the films had had a much larger impact that I had imagined. I love the Pixar films, but I had always assumed that they were widely regarded as kids films.

Evidently I was (happily) wrong.

Rating 5 out of 6.

(1) As far as I'm aware, John Lasseter has never in his life said "Yo."
(2) Also never happened.