is two guys collaborating to write on writing and collaboration.

January 2006 Archives

Tuesday
Jan 31, 2006

State of the Blog: January posted by Martin

Tomorrow we have our one-month Anniversary. Spitball! was officially launched on January 1, 2006. How do we feel about that? What have we been doing?

We started by feeling around in the dark. Shockah’s process is much different than mine, appropriately, because I think our talents and weaknesses conveniently dovetail. As he plans to elaborate in a post on the subject, his process is very much from the inside out—from a small picture to the big one. I tend to work in the opposite way, thinking about the big picture and then zeroing in on the topic from outer space.

But, he stumbled on a great way to break through my initial meaderings about the two words we had picked to define or spark our mission: Prison Planet. Shockah penned a post about some ideas for Prison Planet movies based on the cheesy ubiquitous announcer saying “In a World…”. This started an all out plot bonanza, with each of us giving 25 to the cause, from which we picked 8 each that we’re arguing pros and cons for. In the end, we’ll have one plot to rule the blog, and focus our energy rays of writing on.

This month could be considered the beta month—we only told a few people about us, to shake out some of our systems. We’re happy with the response when we talk to people directly, but so far only one person has joined us in the forums (I call you out in thanks, gdd, and gratuitously link to your fine blog in gratitude). If you don’t know us, please come on into the forums and join us. We’re kind of fun if you interact with us, not unlike wind-up tin toys. If you do know us, where the hell are you? Get yer ASCII in there.

So, what does the world think of us? In a decidedly unscientific poll, Google ranks us 51st if you search for “spitball”, and an atrocious 131st if you search for “prison planet.” Hopefully that will improve over time. Links to us would help, for those of you with the power, will and graciousness to do so.

We will continue whittling down our plots to the top one, and arguing back and forth. Please give us feedback, let us know what you think—about our ideas, the whole thing, and even the design of the site.

To sum up: The state of the Blog is strong, optimistic, and looking forward to a good year. We hope you’ll be part of it.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Tuesday
Jan 31, 2006

Re:[3] Round Two: Rise to Vote, Sir posted by kza

I know — y’all thought I was gonna post Round Three. Sorry, not yet. Definitely tomorrow.

But a few notes about that last round:

I have no idea how well emotions translate from this blog to the people reading it, but I think there’s a small chance that some of you might’ve been surprised by my vote for La Commune Planet.

If so, your surprise was justified. If we’re talking about which idea I genuinely liked more, than yes, I really liked Robots in Love more than La Commune Planet.

Fortunately for those communards, mere “like” wasn’t going to cut it.

The thing is, my real problem with La Commune Planet, as of this writing, is one of passion. I mean, I named it #3 in my list, and here I was crapping all over it. What happened? I’m not entirely sure, but once in the cold light of day, my previous passion for the idea kinda died out, and as Burley (and gdd, in the forum) expressed their enthusiasm, I began to get a sense of what the problem was.

I’ll save that for its next battle, however.

So why the flip-flop? Well, I thought about it, and came to a couple conclusions:

A) Although I have a problem with it, I realized that it’s not nearly as big a problem that Burley and I face with Rasputin the Translator. As I mentioned to him a few days ago, with that one, we’re either going to find common ground for our differing interpretations (and it’ll probably cruise to the finals), or we won’t and it’ll die in its next battle. Commune, however, as I said before, was a problem of passion, and if in a matter of a week it can go from #3 to #20, then there’s always the possibility of that it could reverse course by the time it has to fight again. In that time, I could stumble upon the way “into” this idea that really gets me excited. This was, in a sense, a “benefit of the doubt” vote.

B) And all of the above wouldn’t have mattered at all if Robots in Love was airtight, but clearly it wasn’t. I asked myself a question: if Robots in Love were all mine to create, if I had total control over every aspect of it, would I do it? The hard, honest truth was that I would table it and move onto something else. It wasn’t ready, and it was going to take a lot of energy to get it to that point. It wouldn’t have been fair to try and vote it through, I don’t think.

Okay, ‘nuff navel gazing. Round Three, coming up!

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Monday
Jan 30, 2006

Re:[2] Round Two: Rise to Vote, Sir posted by Martin

Once again, we are in agreement where the rubber meets the road.

I, Burley Grymyz, also vote for La Commune Planet.

I hand the gavel over, sir, and will eagerly await Round Three (subtitle: the tertiarier).

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Monday
Jan 30, 2006

Re: Round Two: Rise to Vote, Sir posted by kza

I, Urban Shockah, will rise from my seat and vote as well.

And in a rare, double-whammy decision, I’ll also name my choice:

Rasputin the Translator

wait, I mean:

La Commune Planet

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Monday
Jan 30, 2006

Round Two: Rise to Vote, Sir posted by Martin

I could write more, but I decided to keep this one clipped. If we disagree, then we’ll see how we can bend and twist them.

Burley Grymz has made his choice.

Again, this is gonna be tough stuff for me (look at those ranks!). However, while I feel like I put up a good battle last time, this time I think I might let Burley take the lead on this one. Unless he says something stupid, like “genre is for marketers”. Then I’ll get angry. He wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

REMINDER: I’ve written the following without looking at Burley’s comments first. That’s gonna be the way I roll for the remainder of the first two rounds of each remaining match-up.

La Commune Planet

In a world constructed for the pleasure of the ultra-rich, every vice can be had — for a price. But beneath the smiling exterior of the friendly staff, there lurks a growing resentment. When a group of ascetics destroy access to the planet’s hidden interdimensional gateway, the employees sieze the chance to declare independence from the governement and its backers. But as they take the profits and the pleasures for themselves, pressures and conflicting desires threaten to blow the planet to smithereens.

Pro:

A pleasure planet, huh? That could be interesting to build. Especially if we try to think of what a future society finds pleasurable — with body and gene modifications, it could get really weird really fast. And how does one go about hiring, firing, and training a staff for this kind of thing? Are they all slaves, whether literally or by-any-other-name? Or do they volunteer for this work because the pay is awesome? (For some reason, Gosford Park is coming to mind.) Regardless, it’s not hard to imagine the kind of resentments that could boil over in that kind of atmosphere.

Con:

I feel like I’m seeing the arc of this one too early (yeah, I know, I wrote the frickin’ thing) and it aint really doin’ it for me. Right now, it seems like we know that the rich are probably pretty disgusting but probably don’t deserve their fate, and we know that the poor staff are probably decent people but some will revert to a more bestial nature when the opportunity presents itself. Actually, what this is reminding me of (and La Commune Planet doesn’t really benefit from the comparison) is Hotel Rwanda. But that had an interesting protagonist — like a lot of these ideas, I’m not sure whose eyes we’re going to see it from (and it could be many, a la Altman) or why that perspective is interesting. (And usually when there’s a problem of “who’s the protag and what’s the perspective?”, its usually the originator of the idea that can get past that and see something valuable there — not so this time!)

So right now, for this one to proceed, I’m going to need more: an idea of a protagonist, an idea of perspective, and I’d like to see where this story could go if, for example, the above synopsis only accounts for, say, the first 30 minutes of a 120 minute story.

Robots in Love

In a World where robots are immature, but can easily pass the Turing test, one young android idolizes a slightly older movie star, and tries everything in his power to become like his idol. As part of his transformation, the robot works at becoming quite the ladies man, but his game is called when he meets a girl that actually likes him and that he doesn’t have to chase. She would certainly never sleep with him if she knew he was an android, but being an android he is physically incapable of sleeping with her. Will truth ruin love, or can the technology-crossed-lovers find a way to remain together?

Pro:

I’ll admit, part of my attraction to this is that it reminds me of the 10 minute sequence that introduces Jude Law’s character in A.I., which, if separated from the movie, is one of the great short films of the new century. I’d watch an entire movie about Gigolo Joe, no problem. Also, I like robots. I mean, hell, I liked I, Robot. Give a machine a personality and it’s amazing how much mileage you can get out of it.

Love stories are great. And I don’t know why I say that, really. It’s not a genre I watch very often. But I like the challenge of it. They’re so prevalent, the clich�s are so ingrained our culture, that it becomes a challenge to do something new with it. And making one of the lovers a robot, while not original, is still a great way of looking at the form, and finding ways of highlighting and undermining its rote, ritualistic motions. One of those is the “misunderstanding” scene, and if I understand correctly, a possibility for this story is that she wants to get into his pants, but he’s got nothing there, and if she finds out, she’ll dump him. (Is that how you intended that?) That’s interesting — I like that. There’s an underlying truth to the metaphor of the situation that I think works.

And of course, building this world means thinking about why these robots exist, what they’re for, how they’re regulated. Tough work, yes, but I like that kind of thing. (i.e., it doesn’t sound too hard :-)

Con:
Well, this is obvious, innit? Where’s the Prison Planet? I’m not going to be so pedantic to demand that there be some kind of prison planet — I’ve suggested that the Prison Planet be metaphorical in nature — but I’m not quite sure how it works here. Their love is like a prison planet? Ummm… no.

And while I like the idea of working on a love story, especially one that crosses biological boundaries, I’m not really feeling it. I wanna know what these two see in each other. Does she like him because he’s so much like his matinee idol? And what does he get out of this relationship? Why is there such a stigma on human-robot relations? If it’s wrong (or simply unfortunate) for a robot to fall in love, why the hell are they programmed for that possibility?

So there are some definite conceptual problems that need to be worked out, and it’s possible that they can’t be reconciled.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Monday
Jan 30, 2006

Round 2.2 [La Commune Planet v. Robots in Love] posted by kza

La Commune Planet (Shockah rank: #3, Burley rank: #7)

v.

Robots in Love (Shockah rank: #2, Burley rank: #11)

FIGHT! AGAIN!

Again, this is gonna be tough stuff for me (look at those ranks!). However, while I feel like I put up a good battle last time, this time I think I might let Burley take the lead on this one. Unless he says something stupid, like “genre is for marketers”. Then I’ll get angry. He wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

REMINDER: I’ve written the following without looking at Burley’s comments first. That’s gonna be the way I roll for the remainder of the first two rounds of each remaining match-up.

La Commune Planet

In a world constructed for the pleasure of the ultra-rich, every vice can be had — for a price. But beneath the smiling exterior of the friendly staff, there lurks a growing resentment. When a group of ascetics destroy access to the planet’s hidden interdimensional gateway, the employees sieze the chance to declare independence from the governement and its backers. But as they take the profits and the pleasures for themselves, pressures and conflicting desires threaten to blow the planet to smithereens.

Pro:

A pleasure planet, huh? That could be interesting to build. Especially if we try to think of what a future society finds pleasurable — with body and gene modifications, it could get really weird really fast. And how does one go about hiring, firing, and training a staff for this kind of thing? Are they all slaves, whether literally or by-any-other-name? Or do they volunteer for this work because the pay is awesome? (For some reason, Gosford Park is coming to mind.) Regardless, it’s not hard to imagine the kind of resentments that could boil over in that kind of atmosphere.

Con:

I feel like I’m seeing the arc of this one too early (yeah, I know, I wrote the frickin’ thing) and it aint really doin’ it for me. Right now, it seems like we know that the rich are probably pretty disgusting but probably don’t deserve their fate, and we know that the poor staff are probably decent people but some will revert to a more bestial nature when the opportunity presents itself. Actually, what this is reminding me of (and La Commune Planet doesn’t really benefit from the comparison) is Hotel Rwanda. But that had an interesting protagonist — like a lot of these ideas, I’m not sure whose eyes we’re going to see it from (and it could be many, a la Altman) or why that perspective is interesting. (And usually when there’s a problem of “who’s the protag and what’s the perspective?”, its usually the originator of the idea that can get past that and see something valuable there — not so this time!)

So right now, for this one to proceed, I’m going to need more: an idea of a protagonist, an idea of perspective, and I’d like to see where this story could go if, for example, the above synopsis only accounts for, say, the first 30 minutes of a 120 minute story.

Robots in Love

In a World where robots are immature, but can easily pass the Turing test, one young android idolizes a slightly older movie star, and tries everything in his power to become like his idol. As part of his transformation, the robot works at becoming quite the ladies man, but his game is called when he meets a girl that actually likes him and that he doesn’t have to chase. She would certainly never sleep with him if she knew he was an android, but being an android he is physically incapable of sleeping with her. Will truth ruin love, or can the technology-crossed-lovers find a way to remain together?

Pro:

I’ll admit, part of my attraction to this is that it reminds me of the 10 minute sequence that introduces Jude Law’s character in A.I., which, if separated from the movie, is one of the great short films of the new century. I’d watch an entire movie about Gigolo Joe, no problem. Also, I like robots. I mean, hell, I liked I, Robot. Give a machine a personality and it’s amazing how much mileage you can get out of it.

Love stories are great. And I don’t know why I say that, really. It’s not a genre I watch very often. But I like the challenge of it. They’re so prevalent, the clich�s are so ingrained our culture, that it becomes a challenge to do something new with it. And making one of the lovers a robot, while not original, is still a great way of looking at the form, and finding ways of highlighting and undermining its rote, ritualistic motions. One of those is the “misunderstanding” scene, and if I understand correctly, a possibility for this story is that she wants to get into his pants, but he’s got nothing there, and if she finds out, she’ll dump him. (Is that how you intended that?) That’s interesting — I like that. There’s an underlying truth to the metaphor of the situation that I think works.

And of course, building this world means thinking about why these robots exist, what they’re for, how they’re regulated. Tough work, yes, but I like that kind of thing. (i.e., it doesn’t sound too hard :-)

Con:
Well, this is obvious, innit? Where’s the Prison Planet? I’m not going to be so pedantic to demand that there be some kind of prison planet — I’ve suggested that the Prison Planet be metaphorical in nature — but I’m not quite sure how it works here. Their love is like a prison planet? Ummm… no.

And while I like the idea of working on a love story, especially one that crosses biological boundaries, I’m not really feeling it. I wanna know what these two see in each other. Does she like him because he’s so much like his matinee idol? And what does he get out of this relationship? Why is there such a stigma on human-robot relations? If it’s wrong (or simply unfortunate) for a robot to fall in love, why the hell are they programmed for that possibility?

So there are some definite conceptual problems that need to be worked out, and it’s possible that they can’t be reconciled.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Saturday
Jan 28, 2006

Round Two: [La Commune Planet v. Robots in Love] posted by Martin

La Commune Planet (Shokah rank: #3, Burley rank: #7)

v.

Robots in Love (Shokah rank: #2, Burley rank: #11)

FIGHT!

La Commune Planet
In a world constructed for the pleasure of the ultra-rich, every vice can be had — for a price. But beneath the smiling exterior of the friendly staff, there lurks a growing resentment. When a group of ascetics destroy access to the planet’s hidden interdimensional gateway, the employees sieze the chance to declare independence from the governement and its backers. But as they take the profits and the pleasures for themselves, pressures and conflicting desires threaten to blow the planet to smithereens

Pros:The 20th century might have been the biggest political-theory battle in the history of political battles (in this corner, the forced equity of debasement: Communism! and in this corner, darwinism of the richest: Capitalism!), with one obvious winner, but the truth is that class is a huge issue in our world, and will continue to be so as the gap between rich and poor becomes larger and larger. The rich will, obviously, want to retain their riches, and the poor will want some help from life’s hardships. Nothing is worse than being down on your luck and seeing some asshole roll by in a gold plated SUV whose only purpose is pimping the coin, but if you earn it, don’t you deserve to keep it?

For that reason, I love the idea of capturing this drama—no matter what side one may think of it—in microcosm. I would even go so far as to say that this picture should play somewhat like John Sayles in space, but with a more conventional plot line. That is, make a cookie-cutter sequence of events, but populate them with characters who are in great opposition, but be sympathetic to both sides. Make no easy villains, or if we set somebody up as one, redeem them in the end. The trick would be avoiding the stereotypical rich-person-doesn’t-care-about-anybody-else stereotype, and the poor-worker-oppressed-righteously-rises-up stereotype.

Or, it could even be played like Starship Troopers, in that you’re rooting for the team that under closer inspection reveals themselves to be fascist (the WOW report had a great piece on this). So, maybe the film is completely sympathetic to the rich people who are being treated unfairly and cruelly by the uprising underclass, but in reality, when viewed objectively, any actions the workers take are completely understandable.

In any case, this idea totally jazzes me. As Shockah knows, the one question I always ask of our characters is: What is the power situation in this relationship? Who has it, who wants it? What’s the social pecking order? Once you answer that, in my view, you know a lot about the politics of the scene. This idea is ripe with these questions, and has the potential to be very dynamic and exciting.

Cons:But, it will be very easy to mistakenly (hell, even on purpose) end up with a script that sounds like propaganda for one side or the other. This must be avoided at all cost. Also, there is an uncomfortable parallel between this and Exit to Eden, another of Anne Rice’s ernest (yet still a bit laughable) BDSM books (written, obviously, before she became obsessed only with the suffering of one man a few thousand years ago) made into a hideously horrible mis-step of a comedy movie.

We’d have to cull our ideas for what services this pleasure planet offers, and make we really think out the sort of situation that might arise from the ability to have worlds like this (in other words, Besterize the idea) as opposed to just making some shit up that sounds outrageous. We would have to look at current luxury resorts, and extrapolate what future places might be, but I think we would definitely have to do the research to make the atmosphere feel authentic.

Robots in LoveIn a World where robots are immature, but can easily pass the turning test, one young android idolizes a slightly older movie star, and tries everything in his power to become like his idol. As part of his transformation, the robot works at becoming quite the ladies man, but his game is called when he meets a girl that actually likes him and that he doesn’t have to chase. She would certainly never sleep with him if she knew he was an android, but being an android he is physically incapable of sleeping with her. Will truth ruin love, or can the technology-crossed-lovers find a way to remain together?

Pros:I kind of see this plot as Pinocchio de Bergerac. And, it raises the age old questions about romance and love stories and euphemisms for sex. In this case, there is no sex option. Obviously, if androids were real, one of the first things that they would be outfitted for is sex (Real Dolls anybody?). But, assuming that there were cultural or physiological reasons that the android couldn’t do that (maybe it’s a law passed by conservatives worried about the next wave of unnatural loving), then we have our character.

Also, I like the fact that the imprinting happens via a mediascape, so the issue of media effects can be explored (which I am fascinated with. On one hand, I think it’s ridiculous to argue that all bad things can be traced back to media effects, but on the other hand to think that media has no effect is just as ridiculous).

And, of course, it’s at heart a classic loves story ala, boy tries real hard to find love and can’t, until he stops trying and it finds him.

But most interesting is the conundrum of how do you resolve a love story where the lovers can never be lovers? What is the possible solution to this issue, and can it be solved with solutions that will be in a movie that, at best, should have an R rating?

Cons:The main con is my last pro. That damn conundrum will be difficult to solve, I think. More to the point, is an impossible love—one without hope—interesting at all? It’s similar in some ways to the impossible problem raised in A.I., which Speilberg gave a pseudo happy ending, but I’m betting it was a difficult choice to make. The trick would be making the revelation of this fact be the journey, and not start with it. In A.I., we knew no good could come, but what intrigued us to watch further? Once it is established that there can be no sex, do we give them other attributes? Do we address of sexless marriages? Is there allowances for her physical needs to be met outside of the relationship, and if so, why does she stay with him?

These questions are ones that will need to be answered, I think, and I see them as difficult questions. After all, two of the greatest filmmakers of all time failed to adequately answer them in A.I. What makes us think that we can here?

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Friday
Jan 27, 2006

Re:[4] Round One: Rise To Vote, Sir posted by kza

Yep, your turn to go first. I’ll probably think about the next two ideas then compose and post my Pro/Con without looking at yours first, and that’ll probably happen Monday. Just a heads up.

Rasputin’s got a tough road ahead of it; I’m curious to see how it fares.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Friday
Jan 27, 2006

Re: [3] Round One: Rise to Vote, Sir posted by Martin

I, Burley Grymz, vote for…

Rasputin the Translator.

It has been settled, this first battle. I found it a difficult one, but in the end I’m drawn to the megalomanic (or, whatever he will turn out to be).

So—for this next round, do I go first?

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Friday
Jan 27, 2006

Re:[2] Round One: Rise To Vote, Sir posted by kza

I, Urban Shockah, vote for…

Rasputin the Translator.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Friday
Jan 27, 2006

Re: Round One: Rise To Vote, Sir posted by Martin

Burley Grymz, present and ready with a choice.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Friday
Jan 27, 2006

Round One: Rise To Vote, Sir posted by kza

I’ve (somewhat reluctantly) made my choice. What say you?

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Friday
Jan 27, 2006

Round 1.6 [Liber XII v. Rasputin the Translator] posted by Martin

Rasputin
I’m all for finding the way into the story through our bearded man, but it should be said up front that we have very different ideas of what he’s like. I see him more as a deliberate man taking advantage of a political situation, and in so doing making Machiavellian plays at power (which, is why I named him Rasputin to begin with, the bearded look that Roky rocks was just a second convenient parallel—for more reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rasputin, although the mis-(dis, whatever) information on this page is more like the pop-culture image of the man I raise: http://www.disinfo.com/archive/pages/dossier/id291/pg1/). I also think the pseudo-religious vibe is important with him. Basically, I see him as a 21st century Rasputin in many, many ways.

One option for him, in my view, might be that he’s not actually the one with the power, but he’s fronting. Maybe he’s holding somebody hostage who is the one with the power. In this view (and incorporating some of your ideas): Aliens land > Misunderstanding, bad things happen > tensions rise > Raspy appears out of nowhere and things get calm > Negotiations are tense > Raspy demands mucho somethingo > nation’s conservatives dig their heels in > Nation’s liberals want to give him everything > Raspy over plays his hand > smart agent finds that Raspy is a charlatan covering for a truly talented young person > Rescues young person in daring event > Raspy falters, having lost his powers > truly talented young person wins the day for the good guys.

I don’t see him as evil, per se, but I see him as taking advantage of a situation to his own benefit, and possibly screwing quite a few people in the process. Well, I guess some would call that evil.

I think your plot with a Clarice-like agent tracking him is very clearly laid out and direct, but it’s not hitting my excitement nerve for some reason. I know what it is: I want Raspy to take an active role in his accomplishments. So, I can’t see him being a reluctant hero-cum-villian, but being a manipulator from day one. Is he evil and doing this really for his own good, or is there some deeper truth? That solution could lead to a: Raspy is asking for something evil > People refuse to give in > one plucky agent realizes great truth > politicians, on her evidence, give in > It turns out Raspy was bluffing and really is an okay guy! Everyone is safe!

So, all of this is to say: yes. I think the key to this story is the Rasputin character, and finding the character that gets us both jazzed about him.

Liber XII
Maybe this should be Liber Ver XII.0—which reminds me, what happened to versions I-XI? I hope the fucking computer didn’t do them in too….

The problem with the Die Hard example is that the reason we could so easily get caught up in the action point of Hans Gruber taking over the Nakatomi building is because his motivation is so simple that it needs no explanation: money. It is genius that money was the case, because if it was politics he would have had to explain somehow what they were (Lefty? Righty? Foreign? American? Goals? Point of violence?).

So, since computers aren’t motivated by money, we still have to somehow—even if it is a throwaway—answer the question of why the computer went bad. I mean, maybe it’s as simple as somebody tripped on a cord, or spilled coffee on the motherboard (how big would the motherboard be on a planet-sized computer?), or maybe it’s as complex as the matrix-o-thon looping realities, etc. etc.

In any case, it’s not a big deal—we can come up with something—but we should be prepared to answer that question if we pick Liber XII to work on.

I like your monk idea, but what about instead of him stepping up when everybody dies, I think he should come to realize that something is wrong, and he knows how to fix it. Nobody will listen to him despite his protestations and because they listen to the elder supposedly-wise monks, many people die. Our boy leads a small band of rag-tag outsider monks (some comical, some weak, some geeky, some freaky) to take on the computer, which pisses off the establishment monks, and they boot the rag-taggers out of the safe hiding place. But, the rag-tag group triumphs saving everybody, and the establishment issues an edict that they were wrong four hundred years after the young monk dies. Oh wait, we should speed that up for the movies—make it 100 years.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Friday
Jan 27, 2006

Round 1.5 [Liber XII v. Rasputin the Translator] posted by kza

POINT OF ODOR!

Lisa stinks.

POINT OF ORDER!

I should let Burley and eveyone else know that, right now at least, I don’t plan on Spitball!ing on the weekends. As Burley knows, there are other projects that need my attention as well, and I haven’t been able to give them the attention they need. Hopefully, I’ll be able to give them the same kind of momentum that this has, and then I’ll be able to weave working on them with working on this. But right now, they need their own days. Feed me! Feed me! they say.

AND NOW…

Here’s my kinda-sorta x>y>z for Rasputin: Aliens land > there’s some kind of misunderstanding because of the way the aliens communicate and something bad happens > tensions rise between aliens and humans > Smart Agent realizes there’s a connection between alien language/method of communication and this crazy, brilliant guy she’s read about who lives in the wood > she goes to track him down > there are complications, but she finds him > he’s unwilling to help > she finds just the thing to persuade him to help > he goes to help and talk the aliens into not disintegrating us > but wait, he can communicate with them, but the humans can’t — what’s he really saying? How do we know he’s on the level? > Smart Agent looks into Rasputin’s past > Finds some clue or some revelation that gives her some insight as to what’s really going down > she has to hurry back to the scene of negotiations — it isn’t what the humans think it is! > she gets there just in time to stop it — but is she really correct in her suspicions? Or did she just fuck everything up?

Something like that. That’s awfully vague, but hopefully gives you some idea of how I see this thing.

And to answer my own “con” from my last post (and as something of a warning): If this idea is selected, both in terms of this round and the contest as a whole, my approach will be Everything I Need To Know About The Story Is Contained In The “Rasputin” Character. That is, the aliens, what their deal is, the Agent, the world of the story, everything I really need to know I plan to get by designing this character. I’m not saying this is the best way, but it’s the only way I can imagine finding an “in” for this story for myself.

Oh, and for the record, I don’t see him as evil. Crazy, messed-up, untrustworthy, bad hygeine, violent… yes. But not evil.

And now let’s see if I can give Liber XII a little sugar.

Yes, to me the “evilness” of the computer is something of a MacGuffin. Or to go back to Die Hard, while it’s interesting and cool that Hans Gruber has taken over the Nakatomi building for money and not politics like everyone assumes — is it important? No. What it’s important is that Hans Gruber has taken over the Nakatomi building. Thus, the evilness in the computer is just there to set it all into motion.

Maybe that’s the hang-up — if we look at this from a Sequence Structure perspective (and boy oh boy, that’s gonna need its own blog entry down the line), then the computer planet going bad is the Point of Attack (the storm clouds) and presumably the planet killing someone and taking over the operation (or something like that) is the Predicament. But what’s the Main Tension? What does the protagonist want? What is the majority of the second act about? Sure, he probably wants to escape and/or destroy the computer. But if so, then what’s the Third Act about? And if not — if that is the Third Act— again, what’s the Second Act about?

(Slightly OT and about Die Hard again: It should be noted that the screenwriter of Die Hard considered the first two acts over in the first 20 pages or so, and considered the remainder of the movie to be the Third Act. Which I found interesting.)

So it looks like the question for Liber XII is not unlike the one for Rasputin: who is this character? This is as about as hacky as it gets, but I think he’s low on the totem pole, both in age and rank. His job is something pretty lame compared to the other monks’ — while others get to interface with the computer and manipulate data, etc., he’s out emptying latrines and fixing leaks in the undergound chambers and there are ugly space rats and space roaches running around down there. Or maybe like Steven Seagal, he’s just a cook. So obviously the first point of order for the evil computer is to kill all the elder monks, and that’s when the Little Monk reluctantly comes forward to lead the others in defeating the evil computer.

Jesus. Can I have my million dollars now, Mr. Bruckheimer?

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Thursday
Jan 26, 2006

Round 1.4 [Liber XII v. Rasputin the Translator] posted by Martin

Ah questions. Do I need them?

Hell yeah! Working, as you said, from the outside in I’m having trouble seeing the plot line continuum in Liber XII story—but, I also think it’s funny that you’re not seeing it as much in Rasputin—I say funny because it doesn’t surprise me that we’re having trouble seeing the other person’s plot, which tells me that I think there is more imagining going on in our heads that isn’t making it to the page here. But, that’s okay—that’s what this process is for, after all…

Liber XII: In relation to your story, I guess I see it as a more smarty-pants film than you, and maybe that’s holding me up. Although I can see that it’s man-against-nature, in a sense—a hostile environment, but I guess I don’t know why the computer is evil, and that’s also holding up the plot for me. I also want to know if its actually possible for a computer to be evil. I mean, some computers can be pretty badass, but are they evil?

Joking aside (Oh wait, was that a joke? I guess they have to be funny to be considered so…), the real deal is this: computers are logic circuits, and if they had a personality it would be an artificial one. Sure, we can get all Star Trek and talk about sentient artificial lives such as Data, but I don’t think that’s appropriate to the story at hand here. Your plot point is planet goes bad, but how and why? To me, this raises tremendous issues that have to be dealt with before we can figure out plot.

Now, it could be that these issues are a MacGuffin, and frankly all we need to know is that the computer went bad. I can get over myself enough to see that—and, with your description, I’m seeing the scope of the piece better. So, maybe the key to getting this story to work would be putting myself on hold a bit, and just figuring out some big plot points, and then finessing as we go. I can see us doing that, and coming out with an action flick that is respectable. And can include veiled references to both Argentian blind geniuses, and Canadian power trios.

Rasputin the Translator: Here’s my x>y>z thang: Bad aliens appear, are bad > Puny human government impotent > Bad aliens marching on Washington (Moscow / Paris / London) > Rasputin appears and stops march > Rasputin wants unbelievable, and unfair, reward for helping humans > Humans have moral dilemma > Aliens bristle > Rasputin plays his cards > Someone wins.

Of course, in between is a lot of politics. I see this primarily as a political thriller, but I think we need a fair measure of destruction-o-thon to make it read as scary and viable. That would make Rasputin more messianic when he appears—and he kind of would be. I think some people would worship him, and some would want to kill him and just give in to the all powerful aliens.

I think, as you said, this one would be harder than Liber XII, but I think that not because the skin of the story isn’t there, in my mind, but because we’ll be dealing with politics and human condition. But, then I think: How would Altman handle this? How would Cronenberg handle this? I mean—just because it’s a political thriller doesn’t mean it has to be Airforce One—I can see this getting a bit subversive, frankly. How can it not when the main character is an evil, bearded psychic?

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Thursday
Jan 26, 2006

Round 1.3 [Liber XII v. Rasputin the Translator] posted by kza

Ah, there’s nothing like a heartfelt apology first thing in the morning! Gets the blood moving!

I’m not quite ready to put this round to bed just yet. I’m definitely leaning one way, but I want to talk it out some more. Due to the weird circumstances, I feel the need to defend both ideas like they’re both gonna get the axe if I don’t try hard.

Liber XII: It’s funny to me that you don’t think the description lends itself to plot easily — to me, it’s one of the most straightforward of the ideas (guys and planet get along > planet goes bad > planet starts killing people > survivors fight back > someone, probably a survivor, wins). Actually, though, this dovetails with something we’ve talked about before, how I like to work from the inside>out and you like to work from the outside>in. You have all these good questions (Why would it have to be huge? Would these monks have advanced vacuum tube technology that needs constant tending?), yet, I read them and think, “I don’t really care at this point”. But (and correct me if I’m wrong) you need this — you need to be able to see it in kind of an objective way, as real thing, that a movie “just happens” to capture a small part of. While I, on the other hand, want to see it as the simplest possible expression of a general, common, dramatic idea — to me, this story is only really different from Rachel, My Dear in the details. It’s about a character fighting against an environment that is conscious and evil. (Maybe you have a different take on Rachel, My Dear, but that’s Round 7.)

But again, while this story idea could be a lot of different things, to me it’s a pretty straightforward action flick with some cool ideas and cool visuals. It’s Die Hard on an evil sentient planet. If that isn’t interesting to you (and I don’t blame you if it isn’t), then it either needs a big infusion of Something Else or it should probably be canned.

Rasputin the Translator: This one definitely isn’t an action flick, although there should probably be some action sequences. This seems like a political thriller to me… except, no. You can probably attach a lot of tags to it, but right now it they slide right off. I like that, but that can be problematic as well. If it’s neither fish nor fowl, there can be confusion as to the direction it’s supposed to go, or what the tone is, and, going back to your favorite bugaboo word, genre, when the genre is agreed upon, there’s an agreed upon set of conventions and ideas to calibrate the new story against.

Another funny thing: you didn’t see the story in Liber XII, but while I see the possibility of a story in Rasputin, I’m not sure what it is, exactly. I can’t do that x>y>z thing like I did above. The description of it makes me wanna see it — but if I saw it in a theater, that means I didn’t have to do the hard work of building and revealing the mysteries :-) To me, this one looks a lot harder than Liber XII, but, of course, that’s because I like to have a dramatic skeleton to fall back on. The question of scale is an important one, but not nearly as difficult or important in the scheme of things, imo. (Or put another way: I know I can handle it, no prob. I know you know you can, too :-)

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Thursday
Jan 26, 2006

Re[2]: Burley's Ready to Vote posted by Martin

To the board, the readers, the judges, and most importantly—my compatriot Urban Shockah. I would like to sincerely apologize for my breech of rules and—if appropriate—ethics. Though no words can excuse my actions, I do humbly ask for leniency in the face of our important needlessly complex rules, and will do my best in the future to follow them to the T.

Mr. Shockah, I eagerly await your next post, and will continue as specified in the rules. Thank you for your time, consideration, and—of course—your patience.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Thursday
Jan 26, 2006

Re: Burley's Ready to Vote posted by kza

POINT OF ORDER!

You’ve gone out of turn, mister. I get to either post or make a choice, then you get to go.

Go back three spaces!

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Thursday
Jan 26, 2006

Re: Reading List: Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man) posted by Martin


In 1951 The Catcher in the Rye was published. James Stewart, Spencer Tracey, William Holden and Louis Calhern lost out on the Best Actor Oscar to Jose Ferrer, winning for Cyarno de Bergerac [note: a story in the public domain]. Seoul fell to communists. The Rosenbergs were sentenced to death for treason. The first color television was introduced into the states, and the UNIVAC I mainframe computer was announced—the next year it became famous for successfully predicting the outcome of the US presidential election. Johnnie Ray released “Cry,” possibly the first rock n’ roll record. Leo Fender patented his Fender Esquire (later Telecaster) guitar, and Alfred Bester’s novel The Demolished Man was published.

Why the history lesson? Whenever I look at a historical event—like the publishing of a book—I like to put it into context. All of the events I mentioned, when I think about them, firmly place me in the beginning of the 50s. You can see the decade unfurling in front of you—cold war, literature, music. But Bester kind of existed outside of time, it would seem. Reading this novel gives you very few clues to it’s publishing date.

Shockah lent me the two Alfred Bester books he talked about recently since I had never read them, and I was terrifically impressed. This may be old hat to some of you—Oh, sure, Bester. I covered him in Sci-Fi 101—but everybody has gaps in their knowledge in some ways, and obviously Bester was mine.

What Bester does so magnificiently is to capture language. His multiple written puns for names, as mentioned by Shockah, include @kins, ¼mane, Wyg&. His conceits—that there are people who can read each others thoughts—are not clumsy concepts, but deeply thought out systems that take into account humans and how we departmentalize and organize.

So his psychics have a rigidly hierarchical society, with different grades depending on talent and ability. The higher abilities have tremendous wealth and power—so, necessarily, politics plays a large roll in their choices and actions. He never loses site of the human frailties within these bureaucracies.

Like Shockah I don’t want to give anything away, but again I would like to impress how this is a novel that it is nearly impossible to place the time period that it was written. Only one thing gives it away, and that is the way that Bester handled his women. They are extensions of 50s women, and carry the cultural assumptions from that period—and not women who had gone through the three decades that followed, with the huge cultural shifts that happened. Even some characters sexual liberation was born out of a society of subordinate social roles, and not out of an independence movement, and the social gains and complexities that arose from it. This is a quibble insomuch as the women didn’t read as well to me, but I’m not implying that Bester should have known better—and this is only a minor point in an otherwise brilliant book. Only one female character didn’t read like that to me—Wyg&, who seemed much more contemporary.

So for those of you, like me, who have somehow missed this book—you get both of us pitching it with high recommendations. It’ll keep you guessing, and wanting to set aside everything else so you can read it.

Comments (0) — Category: books

Wednesday
Jan 25, 2006

Software Beat: Between The Lines posted by Martin

In my previous griping about the state of screenwriting software, I said I wanted a native Mac OS X program that was cheap, and saved in an open-sourced, or at least human readable format. Today I stumbled across an obscure program called Between the Lines, currently at version 1.0, that seems to fit the bill. Does it? I hope to answer that, and more, on the first installment of SOFTWARE BEAT.

BETWEEN THE LINES

Icons I found a reference to the program somewhere online—hey—screenwriting software I’d never heard of! And for OS X alone! Whoo-hoo!

I downloaded the demo, which seems to be created by http://www.storymind.com/, which has the distinction of being one of the worst designed websites I’ve ever visited. The graphics are illegible, the layout and feel cheesy, and the overall effect busy and hard to find what you’re looking for. If they were a client of mine, I’d remind them of the golden rule of websites: user experience is your brand. I’ll bet they could quadruple their business by hiring a good design team.

But I digress. Somewhere on their site, you can download Between the Lines, an awkwardly named OS X application. At least, ostensibly you can. Despite the fact that the “purchase this software” link in BTL links to storymind.com, I couldn’t actually find anywhere on the site to buy and/or download the software. A Google search reveals this spot, which is where I grabbed it.

First impressions: Oh man, you guys need a new icon! OS X (and, now Windows and Linux as well) apps are often judged by the coolness of your icon. Yours: fugly. And not in the cool way. But, I’m game. I click on it and open the program.

TOOLBAR NONE

Full screen shot
My gripes about the website appear to spill over into the app—it’s clunky looking, with a total of eight (nine if you count the drawer) icons across the toolbar that use the exact same icon. Just a little software 101 here—different icons are kinda necessary for instant recognition of what you’re doing. Otherwise, I need to read the labels every time I try to use a function. Nobody actually reads the labels when they’re working, which means that you’re gonna be hitting the wrong button all the time here.

What are the buttons? Usually software has a hierarchy of information. The title bar on OS X software holds icons for prominent functions—save, open, etc. The title bar of BTL, instead, holds modes for the typing engine—INT, EXT, comment (comment? Let’s play a little Sesame Street which-one-of-these-does-not-belong here), etc. All of these are available through a menu as well, and through key commands—so there is really no reason to put them here, but here they are anyway. A quick comparison to Final Draft reveals their much-smarter mode of thinking—the modal commands for script definitions are available through a pull-down menu.

A drawer pops out to the right that lists your scenes—and has two buttons—our friend, the document button for EDIT, and extremely oddly, a green horizontal line for “delete.” Why oh why a green horizontal line? I guess it’s a “minus” sign, but green means go, baby, not stop. And Apple has a perfectly good busters symbol to use that everybody knows gets rid of stuff!

BETA BLOCKER

I had to check a few times—this, the icon—is this a beta or alpha app that I stumbled across? Nope—it says version 1.0, copyrighted 2004. Let me just say that if they had called it beta, I might have tempered some of my comments with enthusiastic go-team-go suggestions, but anybody who releases software in this state deserves to be spanked. As I will continue to do just for the outrageous fun of it, and in hopes that I’ll actually spark the developer to do better work—I mean, we’re all pulling for you on Spitball! We want your software to succeed—and if you do it right, I think there’s a real market for it. (HINT: Spend a few weeks / months reading these docs: http://developer.apple.com/ue/ — they’re free and will tell you everything you need to know and more).

BY AND BYE

btw-greenarrow.jpg So, let’s move past the toolbar I was presented with the title page pre-filled in with generic info—not on a separate page, such as with Final Draft or the other big boys, but at the top of the scroll. So, I fill in my title SCRIPTY MCSCRIPTERSON, and then I tab to go to the next field — OOPS—tab actually tabs. Okay, I use the arrow keys and move it down to the BY and hit erase. I might want to say WRITTEN BY, or BRAINSTORMED BY or CREATED FROM WHOLE CLOTH BY, but suddenly all goes dark and BTL goes down. CRASH! Turns out you can’t actually erase the pre-installed BY without crashing the program. Hmmm—that doesn’t bode well.

But, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. Do people really change the BY line that often? Can we leave that as a given (assuming, though, that it doesn’t crash the program)? Okay—we’ll move on—-I type in my name, and then go to the body of the screenplay. The first files you open are pre-filled with a faux-script that has tips, instructions and ideas for using the software. Included is a scriptnotes feature, along with a cool little green arrow. It is cool—must be clip art—but it’s sort of bright. You’ll never miss a script note, but I’ll bet your eye will dart to it all the time as you’re working along. I would push it back to a light grey, and then give it the green tint when somebody mouses over it.

RIGHT—BUT HOW DOES IT WRITE?

Okay—the writing, I hear the voices screaming—what about the writing? Well, I decided to start a new, blank document to get rid of all the cruft and start with a blank page. Oh—I guess any time you start a new document it auto-fills all of that helpful base information. Well, that sucks. I guess you have to start a doc, erase everything, and then you can start writing. Don’t you love software that makes you do a little work? So, I select all on the title page, which does select all, and feeling a bit gun shy after being bested by a simple preposition, I hit delete. Hmmm—well, the title is gone, but nothing else—the infamous “by” and name stayed. I move to the first page, select all the cruft and hit delete. Ah! Okay, now we’re talking. Content gone.

So, I start typing. Oh—wait, it tried to make my INT into a character dialogue heading. Uh-oh—so, hit the button for INT. It automatically inserts a script note in front of the heading. Type the heading. Man, it feels sluggish—the typed character is at least a word behind my typing fingers at any given time. Well, I was crunching something else, so my computer was a bit slow—I try again and it’s fairly responsive, although not quite as a normal text processing engine. Not as fast as Final Draft, or text-edit for that matter. It must be crunching as you’re typing.

I get into some dialogue, and things move pretty quickly. Type a character name, it return and it drops to dialogue. If you need a parenthetical you’ll need to hit the button (now, which one was it? I have to read the damn text!), but in a nice feature, if you hit the tab key after typing your name, it will change the mode to heading and/or action.

Oh, but why go on. You know that I’m just going to rag on the writing part too. Fill in your own complaints here, and let’s move on.

CAN IT BE SAVED?

Two words: Proprietary (fucking) format. You can export until you’re blue in the face—but I want the native files to be plain text human readable. I used to write on an old Epson computer, and those files are gone forever now. I’m thinking that 30 years down the line, so might your program I still want to read my files then, and I don’t want to save a stupid export for every file I make. That’s ridiculous. If you ain’t open and human readable, you get a big raspberry from me. Here’s my new mantra: SAVE IN A HUMAN READABLE OPEN-SOURCED FORMAT.

WHY RELEASE THIS SOFTWARE?

I’m not a total cynic, but part of me is really wondering—did they push this onto the market hoping that people who don’t know what they’re doing buy it because the price is much cheaper than the big packages? I would hate to think that this is true, but we’re either left with the option that the software engineers really don’t know what they’re doing, or they trying to cash in. Let’s hope the latter isn’t true at all.

MUCH ADO ABOUT DESIGN

I know I harped on design and usability here (everybody with me: the experience is the brand!). But tell me, what else is there? If this was a retail store, you would have backed out slowly after walking in. Basically what we have here is a nearly unusable product, but one that claims to have a great philosophy—getting rid of the cruft of all the other screenwriting programs, and giving a clean interface. Yes! I want that—but it has to be combined with a knowledge of what’s current and most usable on OS X. The programs I use most every day disappear and let me do my work in them without actually having to think about them. Some time spent with an interface designer with this program could mean the difference between it tanking, and it taking off. If this was pulled from production, re-worked and re-released, I would happily retract everything I’ve said here. I will trumpet it to the high heaven.

And the great thing is—nearly all of the best Mac Developers are very cool people who are open and not phased by competition. They will help you if you ask for it. Get thee some tickets to Mac Developer Conference this spring. Just hang around out front with a sign “Need help with interface. Will give credit and thank you publicly.” Don’t even pay the entry fee.

Or even better: Open Mail on Tiger. I know, I know—the buttons. Huge controversy—well, do as I do and hit the minimize button for the toolbar. Look at panes, look at the lack of borders—look at the gear menu tucked nicely at the bottom of the sidebar. Now, copy it. Copy everything (except the buttons—hire a good icon designer to do that—and make you a cool icon. It’s worth it! Ask this guy.). Measure every window. Copy it all. Let this be your guide, padawan programmer. Go forth and { may the curly brackets be with you.}

But until then, Spitball! gives it the hock-phoey rating. The lowest we can muster.

Comments (0) — Category: software

Wednesday
Jan 25, 2006

Round One: Burley's Ready to Vote posted by Martin

And that’s all he has to say about it.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Wednesday
Jan 25, 2006

Round 1.2 [Liber XII v. Rasputin the Translator] posted by Martin

Liber XII (Shockah rank: #1, Burley rank: #8)

v.

Rasputin the Translator (Shockah rank: #1, Burley rank: #13)

DING DING DING! ROUND ONE-POINT-TWO! FIGHT!

Liber XII


Pros:
These ideas fill me with questions. I like questions. I want to know about the computers—are they big square things that tower over the rocky surface of the planet? Are they like limestone cathedrals where the walls themselves are the computer? What is the interface? Is it a divine apparition? These things fascinate me—but are they the plot of a movie? Well, I’m sure they could be.

I love that this idea reminds me of Deep Thought and Douglas Adams. I love the idea of monastic hackers, essentially, and as a computer as a repository for all the worlds information—that’s the Borges connection. Like Borges, do monks wander the halls endlessly? Data is nothing without context—what are the contextual engines?

I also would love the challenge of imagining what a massive computer in the future would be like. Why would it have to be huge? Would these monks have advanced vacuum tube technology that needs constant tending? If so, how fast is the computer, and what is it achilles heel?

Even more importantly, what makes it go bad? Is it purposeful, or is it the computer itself? Is it a mistake, or part of it’s logical growth?

Finally, this idea could yield a rich world of history—if the computer knows everything that there is to know, then the monks are historians and librarians—both feeding new data into the system, and keeping the old data alive. Some would look through it—and I want to know what they’re looking at. The story, then, could easily take on metaphor from todays world. The style could be very direct and almost v�rit�.

Cons:
But like Borges, is it filmable? What’s the direct line of action? Who is our main character, and what do they want? Is it a monk trying against time to save the computer from itself? Or space marines called in when the computer goes haywire?

A big box sitting there and computing is not very exciting. We’d have to give the computer a personality (how will you do that, Dave? Dave? What are you doing? I’m not sure I like what you’re doing Dave…).

The description itself doesn’t lend itself to plot quite easily, in my mind. I think it would take a lot of exploration and refining to find out who our characters are, how they lose control of the computer, and how—in the end—everything is resolved.

Rasputin the Translator

Pros:
This idea intrigues me because of exactly why it does you—this very strong character, both good and evil in his own way, as the bridge between worlds that can’t understand each other. But how? Are the aliens earless and eyeless and our bearded man can speak to them telepathically? What if he only appears evil, but in the end is good? There’s so many places we could go from here, and all of them are based around strong characters.

First, our Rasputin. Second, the government agents (or, as you very adroitly pointed out, more than one government) would be in conflict among themselves—then, the translator, and if we chose to show their side of things, the aliens as well. It could be a great political tug-of-war where each side is trying to outthink the other, and none are getting very far until they unhand the only truly powerful person in this story—our man.

And what a character—somebody obviously exploiting an impossible circumstance, but unlike many cookie-cutter villains, the circumstances are not of his making. And the strongest moral question that can be asked is that of one’s character when confronted with opportunity. Just what rules would you bend, and what bridges would you burn?

Cons:

Scale. How do we make it human? How do we keep it contained? Can we tell an epic story this large on the small scale that we have to work with? How do we keep him mysterious, but in total control? Is there too much story here? Where is our hero? From what angle do we attack it? Any way you slice it, this is a big damn pie.

One last note: It may indeed be quixotic, but there are many great movies that have been made from works in the public domain. Including one role that every male actor worth his salt has always wanted to try (y’know, that Scottish one). Just because it’s out there, doesn’t kill a movie—although, as you said, it does make it less likely. Still, I think that should embolden us. We are not writing for ourselves to sell and profit—we are writing for the world to own, and this work should be of our highest possible caliber for that very reason.

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Wednesday
Jan 25, 2006

Lies, Damn Lies... posted by kza

and the Spitball! General Enthusiasm Meter.

As Burley knows, I have a fondness for statistics, even though I don’t know what most of them mean and I can barely add. But that doesn’t stop me. (Nothing stops the Shockah, man.) Below, using a really stupid formula I invented (that I’m sure anyone can figure out if they tried), I’ve listed the Top 16 story ideas in order of General Enthusiasm, which is based on a 1-100 point scale. It may be a predictor of future success; it could be pure and utter wank; it could be both.

1. The Atheist 94
2. If It Pleases The Court 90
3. Little Black Stray 90
4. Liber XII 86
5. Chimerica 86
6. La Commune Planet 84
7. Robots in Love 78
8. The Exodus 78
9. Rasputin the Translator 76
10. The Infected 76
11. Reminiscence 72
12. Time to Die 72
13. Methane Madness 72
14. Rachel, My Dear 70
15. The Scabs 64
16. Cop on the Hunt 48

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Wednesday
Jan 25, 2006

Round One [Liber XII v. Rasputin the Translator] posted by kza

Liber XII (Shockah rank: #1, Burley rank: #8)

v.

Rasputin the Translator (Shockah rank: #1, Burley rank: #13)

FIGHT!

(Note: As fate would have it, for the very first battle, something that doesn’t have any set format and something I’ve never done before, I have to pit my two favorite story ideas against each other. What I’m saying is, expect this first entry, especially the “con” section, to be a little light.)

Liber XII In a world built to hold the accumulated knowledge of the universe, the monks of Liber XII tend to the databases from birth to death. But when an alien computer virus finds its way into the memory banks, the monks are imprisoned on a sentient planet that knows every way to control — every way to punish — and every way to kill ever invented. Can the monks stop Liber XII from destroying the universe?

Pros: Here’s what’s awesome about this idea:

I like the idea of a clear-cut villain. While some screenplays need a more nuanced antagonist, there are some where a straight-up, evil-as-hell bad guy works just fine, and this is one of them. And here we have an evil supercomputer that has control over a world and all its workings, and knows every method of torture and killing ever created. That’s scary as fuck, imo. (And yeah, it’s a lot like Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, but I see this as more actiony, and a helluva lot more hopeful.) A story like this lives and dies by its villain, and this one has the potential to be a great one.

We also have an opportunity to create a really interesting, possibly unique world, what with the monks who are born and raised on this planet where they store all the knowledge of the universe, but presumably they never leave the planet. So they have all this info about life elsewhere, but they never get to actually experience it and live it for themselves. (Perhaps the protag has a dream of getting off the planet and seeing the universe?) And of course, it seems like the information needed for stopping the evil computer is located within the computer itself.

And that’s another thing: I see this kinda like Bester’s stories, where we set up some seemingly-impossible conflicts (hell, fighting against a friggin’ planet seems impossible enough) and then find some amazingly clever way of defeating them. I loooove stories like that.

Oh, and here’s an idea: to go with the whole Rush thing, it could be a rock opera :-)

Cons: While I think the idea as a whole is pretty interesting and kind of unique, it’s clearly built from the history of SF. There’s Harlan Ellison and Rush there, and there’s Isaac Asimov as well (I think; it reminds me of Foundation, which I’ve never read.) I don’t know if this is really a problem, but I can see how it could be. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to be sued by anyone. (Not over this, at least.) And part of me’s afraid of be tagged as an unimaginative hack because of the “scavenged parts” quality of the concept.

But that’s nothing to do with the story, tho. Biggest problem: do we have what it takes to create impossible conflicts (probably) and then solve them (speaking for myself, dunno). While generally I’m attracted to challenges in a script, a nagging voice in the back of my head is telling me that I’m not going to be able to deliver on this idea to the extent that I want.

But that’s not really about the story either, is it? Other than personal shite, I’m not sure I have a lot of cons for this just yet.

Rasputin the Translator In a World contacted by a sentient and potentially violent alien race, one man—bearded and wild eyed—is the only person on earth who can translate between the languages of humans and the language of the aliens. But this strange man is not only hostile to both sides of the debate, he is also untrustworthy, and possibly manipulating the negotiations to his own ends. With all of Earth being turned into a prison as the stakes, one government has a very limited time to not only unravel the mysteries of the alien language, but also the history of the interpreter.

Pros: This one’s awesome for a number of reasons.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s inspired by Roky Erickson’s “The Interpreter”, which I’ve wanted to turn into a story for years. (Reminder to Shockah’s brain: put some goddang Roky on the new computer.) Generally, that’s enough to keep me going for the long haul. (One could get lost in the near-bottomless depths of Roky’s crazy-ass imagination.)

This idea also reminds me of another great SF book that I should loan to you, Ian Watson’s The Embedding. That is also about comminicating with aliens, although it also involves the Amazon, natives to the Amazon and their rituals, kids with brain disorders, nukes, and French Symbolist poetry (!). So there’s definitely an attraction there because of that, and it would be neat to write a story that involves one man (and, as I see it so far, another person, probably a woman, who’s looking for him and then trying to deal with him) and the whole world at the same time. There’s a personal drama and then a world-wide drama that are linked. I’m not saying this is new by any means, just that that kind of structure intrigues me. And I love that the world-wide drama is linked to this Ted Kaczynski-esque, wild-eyed man.

Also, if we absolutely nailed the character of the Interpreter, wrote him to perfection… that’s exactly the kind of showy, Oscar-bait role that Super Actors drool over and try to get made. It’s the Hannibal Lecter, it’s the Marshal Sam Gerard, it’s the Aileen Wuornos kind of role. He seems hatable, but clearly has fascinating characteristics that grab me, and presumably would grab an audience. (Or maybe I find characters who are crazy and isolated but also brilliant immensely attractive — after all, this could also describe Obi-Wan.)

Another interesting thing: you said that “a government” is looking for the Interpreter (I know you changed it to “Translator”, but some things will die very hard deaths), but obviously not necessarily our government, which raises interesting questions: has the U.S. government written off Mr. I? Are they playing an angle, like Mr. I, who would ruin it for them? If so, which government is looking into Mr. I? France? Ireland? Zimbabwe? Canada? (That reminds me of another short story I read in an SF magazine a long time ago, but that’s for another time.)

Cons:

The biggest con for me is same as one of the pros: since this script will be public domain, it seems highly unlikely that anyone will actually make it. Therefore, spending a lot of time on what to me is an actor’s showcase might be silly or even quixotic. (Not to say it wouldn’t make a good calling card — I think anything we do will make a good calling card — but one that cries out for performance and uh, interpretation that it will never see makes me sad :insert tearful face here:)

But that’s all I really have for this, as well.

ONE LAST NOTE: Burley, if any of my extrapolations on characters or situations or ideas about these stories is different from yours, please be sure to talk about yours. Just cuz I went first doesn’t mean I get to set the terms of this debate.

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Tuesday
Jan 24, 2006

Re:[2] The Playoffs! -- Rules of Engagement posted by kza

Motion passes!

So, barring any other communications or crazy ideas, my next post should be the first salvo.

To those about to rock… we salute you!

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Tuesday
Jan 24, 2006

Re: The Playoffs! -- Rules of Engagement posted by Martin

I have to confess, needlessly complex rules are intriguing to me as well, despite the fact that I’m not much of a gamer because I tend to get confused by the needlessly complex rules and would rather just read a book. But, I think I’ll be able to track these just fine.

I like what you have proposed such far, but have one modification and one suggestion.

Modification: (referring to #4/#5): I want to keep as much as possible online, so I think we should post when we have made choices and not. Let’s communicate through the blog alone—otherwise, this turn-based posting is good.

Suggestion: If we come to a stalemate, I propose that the each has to write up an overview of the idea that they don’t like as much, and what changes they would make to it to make it better than the post they are arguing for. This can, of course, include adding the plot of the post they are arguing for to the one they don’t like as much, so long as it includes or is strongly based on the idea they are modifying—so this may become a compromise, or may spark an idea that draws from one or either, but is superior. Then, we vote again on these hybrid-wildcard versions. If this yields no clear favorite, then I suggest we declare stalemate on this round and move on to the next. We will come back and revisit the stalemate when we are through the next series of rounds.

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Tuesday
Jan 24, 2006

The Playoffs! -- Rules of Engagement posted by kza

Again, because I’m a geeky gamer at heart and am stimulated by needlessly complex rules, I present the following guidelines for determining the results of the playoffs:

  1. The player who has been selected to start the round (in this case, me) will make a post, entitled “Round XX” (whatever number it is.) That person will, on the same post, discuss the pros and cons of both story seeds. (Since this process is done by post, it will inevitably become fragmented; thus, I suggest that the first and second posts have all the relevant information to start.)

  2. When the first player puts up the first post, the second player will put up a post with the same information: the pros and cons of both story seeds.

  3. When that’s done, the first player has two choices: he may either post again, or make a choice. If he decides to post again, then he may post on anything he wants, relevant to the story seeds in question: pros, cons, questions, generally spitballing of the story ideas, etc. When that post is up, the second player my then also either post again, or make a choice.

  4. Making a Choice: When one of the players feels he knows without a single doubt which is the best story idea, he will contact the other player offline and tell them that he’s made his choice. The other player has two options: he can make his choice as well, or say he’s not ready. If he’s ready to make a choice, see #5 below. If he says he’s not ready, then the player who made his choice and contacted the other one must make a new post. (Thus, throwing the “Post or Choice” option to the other player.)

  5. Both Players Have Made A Choice: If a player has contacted the other player offline to make a choice, and the other player is ready to make his choice as well, then both players will reveal their choices simultaneously to each other. If both choices are the same, then the first player will make a post indicating that a winner has been chosen. If they are different, then the first player will make a post indicating that each story seed has a “sponsor”, and that everything just got harder :-)

  6. And then both players will go back and forth, making posts, trying to make the best case for his favorite story seed, and hopefully will come to an agreement. (This is the only thing I’m not really sure about — if you have some ideas for tiebreakers, I’d like to hear them.)

IN SUMMARY:

Player One makes a post about the pros and cons of both story seeds.

Player Two makes a post about the pros and cons of both story seeds.

Player One and Player Two continue to go back and forth, making posts about the story seeds, until one of them decides to make a choice.

If a player makes a choice and the other player doesn’t want to make a choice at that time, or has a different choice, then the player who initiated the choice must immediately make a new post.

A NOTE ON PROS AND CONS

Generally, the pros can be anything you want — whatever gets you excited about the story seed, as well as ideas on how to expand the seed into a larger story. Cons, though: since these are fragile, wee little things, I don’t think they can really take any sustained criticisms. So “cons” should be more like “misgivings”, probably phrased as questions: How would this work? I don’t understand this — can you explain it? Something like that.

What do you think? (I’ll be working on the first battle post as you think about it — it’ll probably take a little bit of time.)

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Tuesday
Jan 24, 2006

Re: In A World -- Thoughts on the Process posted by Martin

Idea length: I agree with you that longer is not necessarily better, but it sure is clearer. I think that, despite the strength of our ideas, what the other person is really reacting to is their own interpretation of the idea. I would guess that we’re going to encounter situations where your understanding of my ideas is much different than my original concept, and vice-versa. So, the process becomes one of re-pitching the idea—which might speak to the gap in some of the stories between your ranking and mine. Which leads me to:

The Scabs: I’ll defend this one more later, but I loved the encapsulation of class issues recast as android-human issues, starring the robots as the socialists and the humans as the capitalists. That’s just damn brilliant. It answers the age-old-question: how can you talk about political issues without activating political triggers?

Rachel My Dear: This one was a bit of a wild card, I’ll confess, but it’s a psychological thriller that would make Fincher wring his hands. I definitely see something there, that I’ll hopefully elucidate well when it goes up against Methane Madness (which, I’m not all that excited about. I’m gonna fight hard…).

Music: Out of your music, I knew: the Burrito’s song, Galaxie 500, and (surprise surprise) Stevie & Tom. I’m gonna make some links to all these songs in iTunes later, so we can all hear them, especially the ones we don’t know. I feel like I totally scored with my iTunes picks—they were all interesting, and with the exception of Black Little Stray (which is more evocative and less definitive in message) and Because, I had no trouble coming up with stories from the music. Even when Roky threw me a loop, when I thought the line “Will he leave Moscow?” was “Will he eat my scalp?” but then that was just a shoe-in for sci-fi, eh? The interpreter is gonna eat your scalp? That’s a motherfucking BADASS interpreter. He rules whatever he interprets. Thus Rasputin….

As for The Angry Youth: you know, that vaguely rings a bell, but I can’t say it’s more than that. I’ll stick with Poochie!

And the playoffs: I’m glad we’re starting out with a tough match. I think it will make the whole process more interesting. In the spirit of this, I think we should allow a rule: after the initial defense of the stories, we should be allowed to add detail to them. So, we start out arguing the germ of an idea, but if no clear winner emerges we can offer bargaining chips, such as “What if Poochie! was voiced by Homer?” (which reminds me, if you Google “homer voice”, Google is smart enough to say “See reults for Dan Castelleneta”), then we can avoid stalemates, and enhance the stories at the same time. Whattya think?

Personally, I’m ready. Let the games of Spitball! begin!

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Monday
Jan 23, 2006

In A World -- Thoughts on the Process posted by kza

Some random thoughts on what we just did….

On idea length: As you noticed, my entries (and yours as well) started to get longer the more we did them. Honestly, I’m not 100% happy with that — I still think there’s something to be said for an idea that can be expressed simply and concisely. Of course, I’m not making any arguments that the first ideas are better because they’re shorter — clearly they aren’t — but at times I wished I could’ve found a way to keep them even more bite-sized. For me, there was one big reason why they were getting longer: because I was relying on some outside source (songs, images) for inspiration, I found myself at a loss as to what to say, and while the earlier ones were simply a flash of a good idea jotted down quickly, these later ones were literally written word by word, without any idea of where the hell they’d end up. (This is particularly true of your favorite, The Scabs, as well as Chimerica and Reminiscence, and you can probably tell with that last one.) That’s why they’re long, and that’s probably why they’re deeper, more detailed, and perhaps better.

On your “favorites” list: I suspect I was more shocked by your list than you were with mine — if you look at the numbers, as your Top 8 goes up, my numbers go down. I’m genuinely shocked by the high placement of The Scabs and Rachel My Dear. (Have you even heard that song?) (Actually, have you heard of any of the songs from that list?) Speaking of which…

On “The Interpreter”: Goddam you and your iTunes! Roky’s my all-time fave and because of the whole new computer cock-up, Roky ain’t on this laptop. I’ve always wanted to write something based on it (I had a vague idea for a play back in my Humboldt days). Of course, mine woulda been a completely different thing, but yours is fantastic as well — but maybe I should save it for the playoffs… :-) (Oh, and that was the only song I knew from your list.)

On “The Angry Youth”: These words either mean everything or nothing to you: “Stevie Washington. The angry youth. Born to die. New York’s New York. The turn of the century. All crime.”

On the playoffs: Thing here is, while there are a couple matchups I could just pick a winner right now, the majority of them are dead heats. And round one: my two #1 choices! Aaarrgh! It’s not fair, it’s not faaaiir

Round One, coming up!

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Monday
Jan 23, 2006

The Playoffs! posted by Martin

Okay—now that all the answers are in, we have the first round drafts ready to go head to head. I’ve taken the liberty of matching them up. Burley won the coin toss, so his picks are listed 1-8 against mine, listed 8-1.

ROUND ONE
Liber XII v. Rasputin the Translator

ROUND TWO
La Commune Planet v. Robots in Love

ROUND THREE
The Exodus v. Little Black Stray

ROUND FOUR
Chimerica v. The Atheist

ROUND FIVE
The Infected v. If It Pleases the Court

ROUND SIX
Reminiscence v. Time to Die

ROUND SEVEN
Rachel, My Dear v. Methane Madness

ROUND EIGHT
The Scabs v. Cop On the Hunt

So—now what? Sir, I think you should go first. Although I’m pretty sure how to proceed, I would like you to set the pace. I’ll follow suit quickly. The battle is enjoined!

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Monday
Jan 23, 2006

The Envelope, Please... (Burley's Picks) posted by Martin

Okay—a crazy time picking, but it was much like yours in that my highest ranked came out to 8. I think we have some good concepts on the table, and arguing them is going to be difficult. I’ll play along and argue my ground, but I also truthfully can see working on any of these.

So, without further adieu:

8. Liber XII (Shockah rank: #1)
In a world built to hold the accumulated knowledge of the universe, the monks of Liber XII tend to the databases from birth to death. But when an alien computer virus finds its way into the memory banks, the monks are imprisoned on a sentient planet that knows every way to control — every way to punish — and every way to kill ever invented. Can the monks stop Liber XII from destroying the universe?

7. La Commune Planet (Shockah rank: #3)
In a world constructed for the pleasure of the ultra-rich, every vice can be had — for a price. But beneath the smiling exterior of the friendly staff, there lurks a growing resentment. When a group of ascetics destroy access to the planet’s hidden interdimensional gateway, the employees sieze the chance to declare independence from the governement and its backers. But as they take the profits and the pleasures for themselves, pressures and conflicting desires threaten to blow the planet to smithereens

6. The Exodus (Shockah rank: #7)
In a world where the Earth is nothing more than a black cinder, the last surviving humans live on orbiting space stations, trying to make the best out of an impossible situation. Some are resigned to being the end of the human race, some think the Earth can be rebuilt and repopulated… and one scientist thinks he’s found a signal from an alien race. Are they really out there? Can they save the human race? But presenting the evidence will start a civil war in space, and threaten to end humanity prematurely.

5. Chimerica (Shockah rank: #4)
In a world almost exactly like our own, America has lost its place as the prime superpower, and China has taken over. Chinese language and customs have been absorbed into American culture, and have irrevocably changed the face of the country. The cold war between China and India is heating up, and when a terrorist act is committed on Chinese soil, the culprits are traced back to America. China puts a lockdown on America, sending in troops to root out the terrorist cells and throwing the country into a state of emergency. One family will witness everything, from the beginning of the invasion to the terrifying aftermath, and will try to hold onto one another as everything they hold dear

4. The Infected (Shockah rank: #10)
In a world where telepathy is a disease and the infected are prisoners, one woman will discover a shocking truth that could change everything… but on a world where a mind can be read as easily as opening a book, how can any secret be safe?

3. Reminiscence (Shockah rank: #13)
In a world where genetic and social engineering have eliminated violent crime and other offenses, there is only one punishable infraction: Nostalgia. In order to keep the populace in line, the past must be eliminated, keeping everyone in a blissful present-tense existence. But some insist on remembering, collecting and hoarding pieces of the past to keep it alive. Tom was the greatest of all them, blessed and cursed with an eidetic memory. But when he’s betrayed to the authorities, Tom finds himself on the prison planet, forced to find a way to survive, all alone on a harsh — yet beautiful — landscape. Can his knowlege of the past help him, or even save him? Or will he be prey to the predators on the planet, both alien and human?

2. Rachel, My Dear (Shockah rank: #15)
Rachel had it all: a promising new career, loyal friends, and a loving fianc�. But one morning, she wakes up to find it all gone — and discovers herself in a world of brick and glass, imprisoned by an architectural madman. She need only confess her love for him to be free — but Rachel is going to fight back.

1. The Scabs (Shockah rank: #19)
In a world designed by engineers to be a self-sufficient, endlessly exploitable resource for the rest of the known galaxy, robots toil tirelessly in the fields, the forests and the mountains, providing food and raw materials for a rapidly expanding market. But when a series of accidents destroys some of the mining robots, the rest of the metal workforce decide to strike and power off, leaving the humans that depend on the planet in the lurch. A taskforce is assembled to get the planet up and running again while a negotiator tries to get the robots back online. While the taskforce tries to relearn the long-forgotten principles of farming and manufacturing, the negotiator accidentally reveals the existence of the taskforce… and the robots, realizing that their existence could be usurped by the humans, decide to go on the off

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Monday
Jan 23, 2006

Re: In A World -- Google Image Challenge! posted by Martin

I think it’s really interesting how we started with these 50 doing simple evocative wisps of ideas, and then ended up writing nearly complete log-lines. These are among your strongest, I think—but also the deepest and best explained—so maybe I’m reacting to that. We’ll have to poll my picks and see if I’m weighted towards these.

I particularly like that you broke the time barrier (the past! What a concept!), and broadened the scope into more human concerns. Our struggle, if doing sci-fi, will be in finding that human balance.

One note about The Angry Youth—I’m not sure which MTV program you were referring to, but it made me think about something else entirely.

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Monday
Jan 23, 2006

And The Nominees Are... (Shockah's Envelope) posted by kza

This is kinda like when Siskel & Ebert used to have thier own awards show, where they’d each open an envelope and announce their best movies of the year, etc.

So I took Burley’s 25 ideas and gave them a ranking of 1-3: 1 if I just wasn’t interested in the idea, 2 for ideas that had something interesting to them but were lacking some kind of “hook” to really draw me in, and 3 for the ideas I’m ready to jump into. I had plans for what to do if there were too many or too few 3s, but as fate would have it, I came up with exactly eight 3s.

And it’s an interesting list — I think Burley will be surprised. The 3s run the gamut of his Top 25, not really from one particular area, and just because it was in his Top 5, for example, doesn’t mean it’ll have the same ranking in my Top 8.

As you’ll see now. And the nominees are, from least favorite (comparatively; I truly dig all these ideas) to most favorite:

  1. Cop On the Hunt (Burley rank: #20) In a world where galactic criminals are rounded and left to die on one planet, one man—a crooked cop—must penetrate their violent society to spring a prison break with the leader of the most ruthless gang. If he succeeds, his name is clear. If he fails, Earth will fall to INVADING IMPATIENT ALIENS.

  2. Methane Madness (Burley rank: #9) In a World where stranded humans must guard themselves from a poisonous atmosphere, one scientist finds a process for rendering the air on the planet breathable. The only problem is, the planet is a prison and the guards will kill them all if they found out about the experiments.

  3. Time to Die (Burley rank: #10) In a World where death itself is beaten by genetic regeneration, a guard is killed during a riot on the prison planet. One woman—his wife—faces sure death to retrieve his body in time to bring him back to life. It’s a race against time, with one nearly resourcesless woman willfully fighting like a juggernaut against the prisoners who are holding his body hostage, and the powers that be that think she should just give up. All to simply save the man she loves from eternal death.

  4. If It Pleases the Court (Burley rank: #2) In a World where crimes are judged and juried by encrypted, anonymous computer terminals, one jury foreman doesn’t realize that the man she’s arguing so strongly should be committed to the Prison Planet for life is actually her husband—and the crime he’s accused of—but hasn’t committed yet—is murdering her.

  5. The Atheist (Burley rank: #1) In a world devout to an all powerful god, one man uncovers exposes an unspeakable truth: their planet wasn’t carved by a deity, it was created to hold the most dangerous prisoners in the galaxy: their ancestors. What crime is so unspeakable that not only you will be punished for committing it, but all of your heirs will as well? And what happens when you find out that your captors are still watching your every move?

  6. Little Black Stray (Burley rank: #4) In a World where violent male offenders are sent to labor camps on the remote prison planet, one crew of hardened men finds something impossible: a young woman in tattered clothes, mute and frightened. A small group protect and feed her, keeping her out of site of the guards and away from those who would use her mercilessly. As she gains in strength it seems that she has an agenda—and the truth of what she was doing on a world where no women stepped before might be a big enough secret to shatter the whole planet of forced labor.

  7. Robots in Love (Burley rank: #11) In a World where robots are immature, but can easily pass the turning test, one young android idolizes a slightly older movie star, and tries everything in his power to become like his idol. As part of his transformation, the robot works at becoming quite the ladies man, but his game is called when he meets a girl that actually likes him and that he doesn’t have to chase. She would certainly never sleep with him if she knew he was an android, but being an android he is physically incapable of sleeping with her. Will truth ruin love, or can the technology-crossed-lovers find a way to remain together?

  8. Rasputin the Translator (Burley rank: #13) In a World contacted by a sentient and potentially violent alien race, one man—bearded and wild eyed—is the only person on earth who can translate between the languages of humans and the language of the aliens. But this strange man is not only hostile to both sides of the debate, he is also untrustworthy, and possibly manipulating the negotiations to his own ends. With all of Earth being turned into a prison as the stakes, one government has a very limited time to not only unravel the mysteries of the alien language, but also the history of the interpreter.

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Monday
Jan 23, 2006

List of Worlds, Shockah Stylee posted by kza

Here’s my 25 contributions, ranked in the order of preference. The criteria: how excited I’d be to just jump in and start writing based on the premise. Please note that the rankings probably contradict previous rankings of favorites. Them’s the breaks.

Also, as Burley could (should) tell you, I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the titling of a piece, nor naming characters. I really suck at that. (Or I hate it, I haven’t figured out which.)

The 25:

  1. Liber XII: In a world built to hold the accumulated knowledge of the universe, the monks of Liber XII tend to the databases from birth to death. But when an alien computer virus finds its way into the memory banks, the monks are imprisoned on a sentient planet that knows every way to control — every way to punish — and every way to kill ever invented. Can the monks stop Liber XII from destroying the universe?

  2. Oasis: In a world where information is the only currency, and ideas can be contracted like diseases, one woman finds the ultimate oasis in a universe of data. But to keep it, she’ll have to fight the most hardened and despicable people in the galaxy: the prisoners of Dante IV.

  3. La Commune Planet: In a world constructed for the pleasure of the ultra-rich, every vice can be had — for a price. But beneath the smiling exterior of the friendly staff, there lurks a growing resentment. When a group of ascetics destroy access to the planet’s hidden interdimensional gateway, the employees sieze the chance to declare independence from the governement and its backers. But as they take the profits and the pleasures for themselves, pressures and conflicting desires threaten to blow the planet to smithereens

  4. Chimerica: In a world almost exactly like our own, America has lost its place as the prime superpower, and China has taken over. Chinese language and customs have been absorbed into American culture, and have irrevocably changed the face of the country. The cold war between China and India is heating up, and when a terrorist act is committed on Chinese soil, the culprits are traced back to America. China puts a lockdown on America, sending in troops to root out the terrorist cells and throwing the country into a state of emergency. One family will witness everything, from the beginning of the invasion to the terrifying aftermath, and will try to hold onto one another as everything they hold dear is crumbles around them.

  5. The Museum: In Iowa in the 1940s, in a world of small-town friendliness, small-town pieties, and small-town diminished expectations, Charlie and his longtime gal Thena (short for Athena) yearn to escape from their lives and find a place for themselves in the big wide world. But when Thena’s dad, Professor Lombardi, has a stroke, it threatens to undo his work on the proposed expansion to the town’s antiquities museum. Thena must take over lest the expansion be scratched, and Charlie sells his bus tickets to be with her. But there’s something mysterious about the museum that Professor Lombardi never told anyone — something both fantastic and dangerous, and during one long night in the museum, Charlie and Thena will come face-to-face with it.

  6. Preternatural: In a world where vampires and werewolves prowl the galaxy, and the Ultimate Evil plots the downfall the Last Free Men, one man will find hope where he leasts expects it: in the hearts of the most dangerous criminals the world has ever seen. There’s only one problem: they’re locked away in the most impregnable prison ever created.

  7. The Exodus: In a world where the Earth is nothing more than a black cinder, the last surviving humans live on orbiting space stations, trying to make the best out of an impossible situation. Some are resigned to being the end of the human race, some think the Earth can be rebuilt and repopulated… and one scientist thinks he’s found a signal from an alien race. Are they really out there? Can they save the human race? But presenting the evidence will start a civil war in space, and threaten to end humanity prematurely.

  8. Another Day: In a world gone dead and grey from years of war and pollution, the last outpost in the Pacific Northwest attempts to survive from day-to-day in the hostile environment. Here, a little girl who’s never known the blue sky tries to keep her family from being ripped apart by hopelessness and the machinations of the Council, who will do anything to keep the outpost alive.

  9. Cannibal Honeymoon: The Larsen Ski Lodge in the Colorado mountains is the most expensive and most technically-advanced ski lodge in the country, named “Best Place To Blow All Your Money In One Fell Swoop” by Ski Lodge Magazine in 2005. Mickey and Tammy are newlyweds on their honeymoon — but when the storm everyone said wouldn’t hit actually hits, the resulting snowfall traps everyone inside the Larsen Ski Lodge and isolates it from the rest of civilization. They have food, they have heat — it’s only a matter of time before they’re rescued, right? But days pass, food disappears, and the heat turns off — can Mickey and Tammy survive the other guests? Can they survive each other?

  10. The Infected: In a world where telepathy is a disease and the infected are prisoners, one woman will discover a shocking truth that could change everything… but on a world where a mind can be read as easily as opening a book, how can any secret be safe?

  11. Night World: In a world populated only by vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of darkness, one young ghoul yearns to escape the hierarchal, monster-eat-monster society. And when he discovers a hole into our universe, he finds the one thing he needs most: a friend. But the once the gate is open, the forces of the night, once dispelled from the human realm, seek to reclaim what was once theirs.

  12. Non-Stop Rock Cabaret: In a world of fist-pumping rock ‘n roll and outrageous performances, two musicians, Sara and Johnny, join the Non-Stop Rock Cabaret, a continuous tour through the world that guarantees success � if the performers can make the necessary sacrifices. But when Sara and Johnny fall in love, they become bound to each other, an unmovable object in a storm of drugs, booze and lust. But will their love be able to escape the irresistable force that is the Non-Stop Rock Cabaret?

  13. Reminiscence: In a world where genetic and social engineering have eliminated violent crime and other offenses, there is only one punishable infraction: Nostalgia. In order to keep the populace in line, the past must be eliminated, keeping everyone in a blissful present-tense existence. But some insist on remembering, collecting and hoarding pieces of the past to keep it alive. Tom was the greatest of all them, blessed and cursed with an eidetic memory. But when he’s betrayed to the authorities, Tom finds himself on the prison planet, forced to find a way to survive, all alone on a harsh — yet beautiful — landscape. Can his knowlege of the past help him, or even save him? Or will he be prey to the predators on the planet, both alien and human?

  14. Skull County: A cross-country bus traveling through New Mexico encounters a mysterious gateway and breaks down in Skull County, a world of endless desert, vampire cycle gangs and deadly Vixens. Can this ragtag group — a children’s magician, an ex-firefighter, a retiree, a student, and a former Olympic boxer — survive in this hostile world without end and find a way home?

  15. Rachel, My Dear: Rachel had it all: a promising new career, loyal friends, and a loving fianc�. But one morning, she wakes up to find it all gone — and discovers herself in a world of brick and glass, imprisoned by an architectural madman. She need only confess her love for him to be free — but Rachel is going to fight back.

  16. Funeral Blues: In a world where no one dies and everyone lives forever, the universe’s most dangerous criminals are confined to one planet. But when one man, convicted of a crime he did not commit, finds an ancient secret under the planet’s surface, he finds the means to escape… that could… set… the universe… ON FIRE.

  17. The Masque: In a world that is about to end in disease, blood and madness, the rich huddle in their extravagant compounds while the poor are left to die. As they amuse themselves with forbidden delights and wait for a new world to be born, a stranger emerges from the shadows to become the hit of the social scene. But what dark secret does he hide behind his black sunglasses?

  18. For Your Own Good: In a world where there is no war and everything is provided for you, one technician discovers that this utopia is surrounded by a force-field, imprisoning the populace from the outside world. What he doesn’t realize is that the field isn’t there to keep them in — it’s to keep something out.

  19. The Scabs: In a world designed by engineers to be a self-sufficient, endlessly exploitable resource for the rest of the known galaxy, robots toil tirelessly in the fields, the forests and the mountains, providing food and raw materials for a rapidly expanding market. But when a series of accidents destroys some of the mining robots, the rest of the metal workforce decide to strike and power off, leaving the humans that depend on the planet in the lurch. A taskforce is assembled to get the planet up and running again while a negotiator tries to get the robots back online. While the taskforce tries to relearn the long-forgotten principles of farming and manufacturing, the negotiator accidentally reveals the existence of the taskforce… and the robots, realizing that their existence could be usurped by the humans, decide to go on the offensive.

  20. Biocrime: In a world where biological organisms are outlawed and only the metal-born may rule, mankind are codemned to a single outpost on the edge of the galaxy. But one man discovers the secret of the machines, and with the help of a sympathetic group of robots, they will rise up and fight for our dignity, our integrity…. and our humanity.

  21. Love War: In a world where love is outlawed and only outlaws love, one woman, imprisoned on a planet for the ultimate crime, will break the bonds of her captivity and take the battle to the heart of the enemy.

  22. The Angry Youth: In a world where America has closed its borders to everyone, and inside, the populace is forced to hew to the government’s every thought and deed, a catastrophe occurs: a meteor crashes and unleashes an alien monster that threatens to destroy the country — and the unprepared government is helpless in its wake. But there’s hope in the form of one cool cat: Stevie W., an outlaw teenager with a magic skateboard and underground cred. Unfortunately for Stevie, there’s more to this alien monster than just wanton destruction — and the government knows more than they’re telling.

  23. The Impuritans: In a world where humanity is rapidly evolving, but only the pure have the power, one man will lead his fellow Impuritans against the oppressors… and the war for the future of the human race will begin.

  24. Priceless: In a world where lives are bought and sold with the touch of a button, and the human soul has a market value, one woman will rebel and pay the ultimate price: Banishment. On this planet, she must learn to survive by only her strength, her wits… and the knowledge that SOME THINGS ARE NOT FOR SALE.

  25. Aint Nothin� But A Dome Thang: In a world where the poor underclass are housed in giant, self-sufficient domes, violence rules the day. But one young man, after seeing his brother killed by the security forces that protect the rich, vows to break the domes open — any way he can.

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Monday
Jan 23, 2006

In A World -- Google Image Challenge! posted by kza

For my last seven ideas for Ze Prison Plan�t, Burley challenged me to use, instead of randomly chosen songs, random images from the Google Image search for inspiration. To generate the images, I entered my birthday as a six digit number, and made my choices from the first page of results.

This is freakin’ hard. I thought Stevie Nicks was bad. I’m feeling like an all-day sucker :-)

(Actually, one of them is so incredibly perfect for the Prison Planet concept as to be ridiculous. Don’t know if I can do justice to it, tho.)

But anyway, here we go yo, here we go yo, so what so what so what’s the scenario?:

A. The Scabs: In a world designed by engineers to be a self-sufficient, endlessly exploitable resource for the rest of the known galaxy, robots toil tirelessly in the fields, the forests and the mountains, providing food and raw materials for a rapidly expanding market. But when a series of accidents destroys some of the mining robots, the rest of the metal workforce decide to strike and power off, leaving the humans that depend on the planet in the lurch. A taskforce is assembled to get the planet up and running again while a negotiator tries to get the robots back online. While the taskforce tries to relearn the long-forgotten principles of farming and manufacturing, the negotiator accidentally reveals the existence of the taskforce… and the robots, realizing that their existence could be usurped by the humans, decide to go on the offensive.

B. Cannibal Honeymoon: The Larsen Ski Lodge in the Colorado mountains is the most expensive and most technically-advanced ski lodge in the country, named “Best Place To Blow All Your Money In One Fell Swoop” by Ski Lodge Magazine in 2005. Mickey and Tammy are newlyweds on their honeymoon — but when the storm everyone said wouldn’t hit actually hits, the resulting snowfall traps everyone inside the Larsen Ski Lodge and isolates it from the rest of civilization. They have food, they have heat — it’s only a matter of time before they’re rescued, right? But days pass, food disappears, and the heat turns off — can Mickey and Tammy survive the other guests? Can they survive each other?

C. Chimerica: In a world almost exactly like our own, America has lost its place as the prime superpower, and China has taken over. Chinese language and customs have been absorbed into American culture, and have irrevocably changed the face of the country. The cold war between China and India is heating up, and when a terrorist act is committed on Chinese soil, the culprits are traced back to America. China puts a lockdown on America, sending in troops to root out the terrorist cells and throwing the country into a state of emergency. One family will witness everything, from the beginning of the invasion to the terrifying aftermath, and will try to hold onto one another as everything they hold dear is crumbles around them.

D. The Museum: In Iowa in the 1940s, in a world of small-town friendliness, small-town pieties, and small-town diminished expectations, Charlie and his longtime gal Thena (short for Athena) yearn to escape from their lives and find a place for themselves in the big wide world. But when Thena’s dad, Professor Lombardi, has a stroke, it threatens to undo his work on the proposed expansion to the town’s antiquities museum. Thena must take over lest the expansion be scratched, and Charlie sells his bus tickets to be with her. But there’s something mysterious about the museum that Professor Lombardi never told anyone — something both fantastic and dangerous, and during one long night in the museum, Charlie and Thena will come face-to-face with it.

E. Reminiscence: In a world where genetic and social engineering have eliminated violent crime and other offenses, there is only one punishable infraction: Nostalgia. In order to keep the populace in line, the past must be eliminated, keeping everyone in a blissful present-tense existence. But some insist on remembering, collecting and hoarding pieces of the past to keep it alive. Tom was the greatest of all them, blessed and cursed with an eidetic memory. But when he’s betrayed to the authorities, Tom finds himself on the prison planet, forced to find a way to survive, all alone on a harsh — yet beautiful — landscape. Can his knowlege of the past help him, or even save him? Or will he be prey to the predators on the planet, both alien and human?

F. The Angry Youth: In a world where America has closed its borders to everyone, and inside, the populace is forced to hew to the government’s every thought and deed, a catastrophe occurs: a meteor crashes and unleashes an alien monster that threatens to destroy the country — and the unprepared government is helpless in its wake. But there’s hope in the form of one cool cat: Stevie W., an outlaw teenager with a magic skateboard and underground cred. Unfortunately for Stevie, there’s more to this alien monster than just wanton destruction — and the government knows more than they’re telling.

[Okay, anyone of a certain age who had MTV back in the day should be able to recognize this ripoff. Sorry ‘bout that.]

G. The Exodus: In a world where the Earth is nothing more than a black cinder, the last surviving humans live on orbiting space stations, trying to make the best out of an impossible situation. Some are resigned to being the end of the human race, some think the Earth can be rebuilt and repopulated… and one scientist thinks he’s found a signal from an alien race. Are they really out there? Can they save the human race? But presenting the evidence will start a civil war in space, and threaten to end humanity prematurely.

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Monday
Jan 23, 2006

Reading List: The Real Prison Planet posted by Martin

We make jokes of the ethical and philosophical implications of a prison planet, but this today on Morning Edition I heard Renee Montagne interview author John Tayman (audio of program available at link) about his book “The Colony” in which he describes the real history of lepers on the Hawaiian Islands, and how they were banished to Molokai during the 19th Century.

It also raises the issues of plot that I hadn’t thought about: in this case, lepers who wanted to avoid banishment would act out, murdering doctors, or hiding somehow. If they were caught, they were sent to Molokai where they were banished on a volcanic beach with a hoe and told to make a life of it. This makes me think of our screenplay with a more human aspect—plot ideas about the person being banished, and the fear that this must strike. We are, after all, social animals. What’s a stronger punishment than banishment? Isn’t that essentially what prison’s are?

For these new arrivals on leper Molokai, previous colonists would often work to scare and intimidate them. The buying and trading of women and children were common. Interestingly, though, the colony grew into a very tight cooperative community, and when it was broken up, some chose to stay behind and continue to live there.

I’m putting this one on my reading list—it will likely be most informative to our cause. Depending, of course, on what plot we decide.

Comments (0) — Category: inspiration

Sunday
Jan 22, 2006

The List of World's, Burley Style posted by Martin

Okay—here are my 25 In a World’s, in order of favorite and with new lovable, easy to use titles. Ordering was a little tricky—some I like more than the order might suggest, and some I dislike more than it might suggest. Some I like the potential for more than the order might suggest. But, we have to start somewhere—so this is where I’m leaving it. Go at it, Urban!

1. The Atheist
In a world devout to an all powerful god, one man uncovers exposes an unspeakable truth: their planet wasn’t carved by a deity, it was created to hold the most dangerous prisoners in the galaxy: their ancestors. What crime is so unspeakable that not only you will be punished for committing it, but all of your heirs will as well? And what happens when you find out that your captors are still watching your every move?

2. If it pleases the Court
In a World where crimes are judged and juried by encrypted, anonymous computer terminals, one jury foreman doesn’t realize that the man she’s arguing so strongly should be committed to the Prison Planet for life is actually her husband—and the crime he’s accused of—but hasn’t committed yet—is murdering her.

3. Hell on Earth
In a world where your DNA is patented and you are born in debt, one woman’s refusal to pay off her birth-deficit lands her in the largest and most violent debtors prison that ever existed: THE PLANET EARTH.

4. Little Black Stray
In a World where violent male offenders are sent to labor camps on the remote prison planet, one crew of hardened men finds something impossible: a young woman in tattered clothes, mute and frightened. A small group protect and feed her, keeping her out of site of the guards and away from those who would use her mercilessly. As she gains in strength it seems that she has an agenda—and the truth of what she was doing on a world where no women stepped before might be a big enough secret to shatter the whole planet of forced labor.

5. The Ancient Word Revenge
In a World where convicted murderers are banished to a planet instead of being put to death, one couple—the parents of a murder victim—want revenge. They plan a trip to the Prison Planet where they will track down the monster that killed their child, and destroy him in the exact same way that he destroyed their lives.

6. Class War
In a World where society is slipt into two classes, the New Trade Marxists are pitted against the Transactionists in a televised battle supreme. The loser will banish all of their believers to a distant planet. The winner takes over the one-world economy and will decide forevermore what future humanity follows.

7. Awaiting the Tide
In a world where people trust one another and crimes are extremely low, one event threatens to eradicate the long-admired peace: there’s been a prison break on Half Moon, where society disposes of all of its criminals. They’re coming back for revenge, and they’re armed.

8. Can you Hear Me Now?
In a world where all information is open and no person is private, a grad student stumbles on an ancient secret that could threaten the base of human knowledge…how can you communicate if all language is rendered illegible? Her enemies want to rebuild the tower. Get ready for BABEL.

9. Methane Madness
In a World where stranded humans must guard themselves from a poisonous atmosphere, one scientist finds a process for rendering the air on the planet breathable. The only problem is, the planet is a prison and the guards will kill them all if they found out about the experiments.

10. Time to Die
In a World where death itself is beaten by genetic regeneration, a guard is killed during a riot on the prison planet. One woman—his wife—faces sure death to retrieve his body in time to bring him back to life. It’s a race against time, with one nearly resourcesless woman willfully fighting like a juggernaut against the prisoners who are holding his body hostage, and the powers that be that think she should just give up. All to simply save the man she loves from eternal death.

11. Robots in Love
In a World where robots are immature, but can easily pass the turning test, one young android idolizes a slightly older movie star, and tries everything in his power to become like his idol. As part of his transformation, the robot works at becoming quite the ladies man, but his game is called when he meets a girl that actually likes him and that he doesn’t have to chase. She would certainly never sleep with him if she knew he was an android, but being an android he is physically incapable of sleeping with her. Will truth ruin love, or can the technology-crossed-lovers find a way to remain together?

12. A Future of Violence
In a World where peaceful men are mocked and disparaged by society, one sensitive man is arrested for murdering the violent soul that his wife cheated on him with. This action won the heart of his wife once again, but broke his own heart when faced with his inner capacity for violence. When he’s sentenced to life on the Prison Planet a culture war erupts over whether the punishment is too great for the crime. The man wants to pay his penance for his crimes. The wife wants her man back. Society is slipt and debates the issue of whether society is a calming or aggravating influence on the nature of men. [with apologies to Cronenberg]

13. Rasputin the Translator
In a World contacted by a sentient and potentially violent alien race, one man—bearded and wild eyed—is the only person on earth who can translate between the languages of humans and the language of the aliens. But this strange man is not only hostile to both sides of the debate, he is also untrustworthy, and possibly manipulating the negotiations to his own ends. With all of Earth being turned into a prison as the stakes, one government has a very limited time to not only unravel the mysteries of the alien language, but also the history of the interpreter.

14. The Singing Psychics
In a World where every person is assigned psychic choral groups to follow them around and sing their innermost thoughts in four-part harmony to all who can hear, one woman is tried in a choral court of law for loving discord, and causing pain in the ears of listeners. The jury is stunned that, when probing her deepest feelings, they realize that, to her, proper melodies are as painful as the improper ones are to everyone else. How can a society based on certain approved intervals accept that some people honestly prefer less melodic sounds, and what shall they do with the young woman who causes pain in everybody she comes near?

15. The Murderers are Dying
In a World where society has shunted its unwanted off to a Prison Planet for centuries, the government is faced with a problem. The Prison Planet is dying. Do they let all of the citizens die cruel and unusual deaths, or do they stage the largest rescue mission ever to bring back to a crowded planet the outcasts, criminals and degenerates that they worked so hard to rid themselves of?

16. Pitch Dark Alien
In a World where a supreme court has ruled that “cruel and unusual” punishment excludes the death penalty, the first batch of off world prisoners is sent to the new facility on Ganesh XIX, where they will be housed forever. But when they arrive, they realize they’re not alone on the planet—and one by one they start disappearing.

17. Downtown Hardcore
In a World where cities have been abandoned for fear of terrorist attacks where people gather, one group of artists braves the the occupied downtown core to rescue a sculpture from a museum. The only problem is—the straggling, violent city dwellers never let country people in, and they sure as hell never let country people out.

18. Breathe, Humanoid, Breathe
In a World where humanoids live mostly underwater, and are equipped with gills, an aquatic princess falls for a mysterious air-breather who appears suddenly in their land without warning. He’s kind, intelligent and handsome, but will she find out that he’s been banished to their planet for an unspeakable crime?

19. Off Script
In a World where politicians are devastatingly corrupt, and the uncaring populace is consumed with instant feedback news cycles, one pundit goes off her script and screams out a warning live on the air, before being cut off and mysteriously disappearing. Was this part of their plan, or could it be that somebody broke from the ranks of the elite in an attempt to save humanity?

20. Cop On the Hunt
In a world where galactic criminals are rounded and left to die on one planet, one man—a crooked cop—must penetrate their violent society to spring a prison break with the leader of the most ruthless gang. If he succeeds, his name is clear. If he fails, Earth will fall to INVADING IMPATIENT ALIENS.

21. Dude!
In a world where four teenagers are about to become world champions of the Prison Planet Videogame playoffs, someone sabotages their game units and they enter the most violent world ever conceived with no way of escaping, and NO RE-SPAWNING ALLOWED.

22. Bar None
In a world where lawyers are the only legal parents, two couples are condemned for reproducing without license and sentenced to banishment on the sterile Prison Planet. The only problem is that one of them is the PRESIDENT OF THE BAR. (Ummm—stupid note to self. I believe the president of the Bar would most certainly be a lawyer…)

23. David Flincher
In a world where friendly monks care for a shipwrecked space traveller carrying a deadly secret, ten outposters learn just what it means to be held prisoner on your own planet. With help four hundred light years away, they have no choice but to break their oath of silence and peace, and defend themselves from certain death.

24. Planet of Love
In a world where gender roles are reversed and women keep tight rule over their mates, men who act out are sent to Prison Planet! The intense spa planet where a crack team of psychologists will teach them about life, friendship, caring, laughter, and of course—about love.

25. Homeo and Pulpiet
In a world where warning clans tear the landscape in half, two teenagers find each other outside of societies constraints. Love, it seems, can flourish in war. But what happens when their parents find out that their children are trying to escape their grasp, and the only other livable land in the galaxy is THE PRISON PLANET?

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Saturday
Jan 21, 2006

Random Worlds, Karaoke Killer posted by Martin

I love this concept. It’s great to get some creative input from a random source. John Cage would approve.

My songs were picked by making a smart playlist in iTunes that randomly picked 5 songs rated 4 stars or better. I hereby authenticate that there was no picking, second-guessing, or non-acceptance of the choices that my Apple Audio overlord delivered. Well, originally #5 was “You’ll Have To Go Sideways” by the Soft Boys off of the perfect album Underwater Moonlight, but it’s an instrumental, so I dumped that and accepted the randomly picked replacement.

I also looked up the lyrics for better absorption (just like the Brawny man!), so I put a link in to them for those who might be curious.

1. In a World where death itself is beaten by genetic regeneration, a guard is killed during a riot on the prison planet. One woman—his wife—faces sure death to retrieve his body in time to bring him back to life. It’s a race against time, with one nearly resourceless woman willfully fighting like a juggernaut against the prisoners who are holding his body hostage, and the powers that be that think she should just give up. All to simply save the man she loves from eternal death.
(Inspired by “Kim Wilde”, by Charlotte Hatherly | lyrics)

2. In a World where robots are immature, but can easily pass the Turing Test, one young android idolizes a slightly older movie star, and tries everything in his power to become like his idol. As part of his transformation, the robot works at becoming quite the ladies man, but his game is called when he meets a girl who actually likes him and who he doesn’t have to chase. She would certainly never sleep with him if she knew he was an android, but being an android he is physically incapable of sleeping with her. Will truth ruin love, or can the technology-crossed-lovers find a way to remain together?
(Inspired by “Big Boys”, by Elvis Costello | lyrics)

3. In a World where peaceful men are mocked and disparaged by society, one sensitive man is arrested for murdering the violent soul with whom his wife cheated on him. This action won the heart of his wife once again, but broke his own heart when faced with his inner capacity for violence. When he’s sentenced to life on the Prison Planet a culture war erupts over whether the punishment is too great for the crime. The man wants to pay his penance for his crimes. The wife wants her man back. Society is split and debates the issue of whether society is a calming or aggravating influence on the nature of men. [with apologies to Cronenberg]
(Inspired by “History of Lovers”, by Iron & Wine and Calexico | lyrics)

4. In a World where violent male offenders are sent to labor camps on the remote prison planet, one crew of hardened men finds something impossible: a young woman in tattered clothes, mute and frightened. A small group protect and feed her, keeping her out of site of the guards and away from those who would use her mercilessly. As she gains in strength it seems that she has an agenda—and the truth of what she was doing on a world where no women stepped before might be a big enough secret to shatter the whole planet of forced labor.
(Inspired by “Black Little Stray”, by Shannon Wright | lyrics)

5. In a World contacted by a sentient and potentially violent alien race, one man—bearded and wild eyed—is the only person on earth who can translate between the languages of humans and the language of the aliens. But this strange man is not only hostile to both sides of the debate, he is also untrustworthy, and possibly manipulating the negotiations to his own ends. With all of Earth being turned into a prison as the stakes, one government has a very limited time to not only unravel the mysteries of the alien language, but also the history of the interpreter.
(Inspired by “The Interpreter”, by The Roky Erikson | lyrics)

6. In a World where every person is assigned psychic choral groups to follow them around and sing their innermost thoughts in four-part harmony to all who can hear, one woman is tried in a choral court of law for loving discord, and causing pain in the ears of listeners. The jury is stunned that, when probing her deepest feelings, they realize that, to her, proper melodies are as painful as the improper ones are to everyone else. How can a society based on certain approved intervals accept that some people honestly prefer less melodic sounds, and what shall they do with the young woman who causes pain in everybody she comes near?
(inspired by “Because” by The Beatles |
lyrics)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes 25 for me.

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Saturday
Jan 21, 2006

Re:[3] Choosing the Final Seed: A Proposal posted by Martin

Okay! Rules set, gloves thrown. I’m posting my final six shortly, and then I’ll gather my list for the grinding.

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Saturday
Jan 21, 2006

Re:[2] Choosing The Final Seed: A Proposal posted by kza

Motion passes.

When we’re done with our 25, we’ll each have a post with our 25 contributions listed, in our preferential order. I also think we should give each one some kind of temporary title — the use of numbers is kind of bland and abstract, not to mention we’ll have two different sets of 25.

How does that sound?

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Saturday
Jan 21, 2006

Re: Choosing The Final Seed: A Proposal posted by Martin

I accept, with one small alteration. I think when we’re done with our 25, we should put up a single post listing them all of our own in preferred order—#1 being our favorite, #25 our least favorite. This may—or may not—influence the first draft from the opposite writer, but it will give us a chance to filter our own work, and potentially communicate something.

Do you accept this change?

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Saturday
Jan 21, 2006

Choosing The Final Seed: A Proposal posted by kza

So anyway, I’m assuming that what we’re eventually going to do is choose one of these ideas to be our “seed” that will eventually blossom into a brilliant screenplay that all peoples of the Earth will love and cherish for always. Although I suspect we could easily just pick one (or a group and narrow it down) very quickly, I have an idea, spurred by my love of competitions and needlessly complex rules.

Here’s how it would work: You pick 8 of my ideas that you like the best, and I pick 8 of yours, in order of preference. Your first choice will be matched up against my eighth choice, so on up the line, with my first choice against your eighth choice. There will be a series of “battles”, so that the original 16 are narrowed down to 8, then to 4, then to 2, until we finally have a winner. (Ideally, the Seahawks.)

These battles will carried out in the following manner: We will both write, as passionately as we can, what is great about both ideas, and we will both write as passionately as we can as to why each idea isn’t as good as the other. Once we have 2 pros and 2 cons for each idea, we’ll then simply choose the one we like best. If we can’t agree, then we continue to argue the merits of our favorite until one of us concedes, or someone in the forum changes the balance of the argument.

And that’s it. It would definitely stretch this Spitball! process out a little longer than it normally would’ve lasted, but I think that’s okay — I don’t think we need to hurry here. It would also give us a chance to expand on these skeletal sketches a little further, and give them more flesh and background than they already have.

Or maybe we should just pick one. What say you? Like it? Dislike it? Proposed rule changes?

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Saturday
Jan 21, 2006

In A World -- Karaoke Edition! posted by kza

Another nice set of five, Burley. #2 is really fascinating — the moral issues are front and center, which is a new one for us. And the specifics of it are really unusual — I like it. #3 (the creation and aftermath of a Prison Planet) is so obvious I’m kicking myself that I never thought of it. And #5: Prison Planet as Rollerball! Awesome!

And now, in this very special edition of “In A World”, I’ve decided to play a little game, and I hope Burley will join me. The rules are simple: Write five “In A World” story ideas as usual, but the inspiration must come from a different song, randomly chosen by iTunes. (I only let it pick songs that are rated 4 stars or better, cuz I didn’t want to be stuck with a song I didn’t really like; Burley may be a braver soul.) I’m not necessarily going to try and turn the song into a narrative per se (although some lend themselves to that kind of thing better than others), but there should be some kind of link, however obscure, from the song to the story idea. My criteria is this: if I come up with an idea that I normally wouldn’t have, then I’ve succeeded. Ready? I’m not, but here I go anyway:

  1. In a world where the poor underclass are housed in giant, self-sufficient domes, violence rules the day. But one young man, after seeing his brother killed by the security forces that protect the rich, vows to break the domes open — any way he can.
    (Inspired by “Fix Up, Look Sharp” by Dizzee Rascal)

  2. In a world constructed for the pleasure of the ultra-rich, every vice can be had — for a price. But beneath the smiling exterior of the friendly staff, there lurks a growing resentment. When a group of ascetics destroy access to the planet’s hidden interdimensional gateway, the employees sieze the chance to declare independence from the governement and its backers. But as they take the profits and the pleasures for themselves, pressures and conflicting desires threaten to blow the planet to smithereens.
    (Inspired by “Sin City” by The Flying Burrito Brothers)

  3. In a world gone dead and grey from years of war and pollution, the last outpost in the Pacific Northwest attempts to survive from day-to-day in the hostile environment. Here, a little girl who’s never known the blue sky tries to keep her family from being ripped apart by hopelessness and the machinations of the Council, who will do anything to keep the outpost alive.
    (Inspired by “Another Day” by Galaxie 500)

  4. Rachel had it all: a promising new career, loyal friends, and a loving fianc�. But one morning, she wakes up to find it all gone — and discovers herself in a world of brick and glass, imprisoned by an architectural madman. She need only confess her love for him to be free — but Rachel is going to fight back.
    (Inspired by “Rachel (My Dear)” by The Stag Party)

  5. In a world of fist-pumping rock ‘n roll and outrageous performances, two musicians, Sara and Johnny, join the Non-Stop Rock Cabaret, a continuous tour through the world that guarantees success � if the performers can make the necessary sacrifices. But when Sara and Johnny fall in love, they become bound to each other, an unmovable object in a storm of drugs, booze and lust. But will their love be able to escape the irresistable force that is the Non-Stop Rock Cabaret?
    (Inspired by “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty)

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Friday
Jan 20, 2006

Re:[2] When Worlds Collide posted by kza

Funny, I was totally thinking of Borges, but I’m mostly ignorant when it comes to Rush. However, I think I was listening to Coheed & Cambria when I wrote it — does that count? Or does that ruin it? :-)

Weird you should mention the Kurzweil book… I had it over Christmas and managed to get through the first 150-200 pages or so before I had to return it to the library. Seems like a great resource for SF. In that vein, I’m reading Oliver Sacks’ An Anthropologist on Mars right now.

Coming tomorrow: comments on Burley’s last five, plus the debut of In A World — Karaoke Edition!

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Friday
Jan 20, 2006

Re: When World's Collide posted by Martin

Damn! I’m digging it. Now how the hell are we gonna pick just one? And, still more to go?

Okay—anyway—I have to say this thing right now. #3? Yeah. Like, if somebody told me “Oh, I casually want to write a sentence or two that will both evoke Borges, the most brilliant writer that ever existed, and Rush, the most rockin’ Canadian power trio that ever existed.” I would have told them to get lost, but you, my friend, have done it. I applaud you.

I applaud all of these ideas, and I want to take a whack at your bonus idea, because it reminds me that I really want to read the new Ray Kurzweil book.

In a World where nanobots cleanse the blood of disease, and people live indefinite lives, a man waiting for the subway in New York explodes, contaminating a large crowd with an aggressive virus—a mechanical virus of microscopic robots. We might stand a chance to fight them, if only they weren’t completely sentient, smarter than us, and designed by the only man in the world who we might have trusted to stop them.

Now—everybody sing along with me from the book of Rush, chapter 2112:
We are the priests of the temples of Syrinx.
And our great computers fill the hallowed halls…

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Friday
Jan 20, 2006

Kick out the Worlds posted by Martin

To paraphrase Tom Robbins: In a world where there are two kinds of people, one kind of person will realize that there really are two kinds of people: the kinds of people who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those that know better.

1. In a World where convicted murderers are banished to a planet instead of being put to death, one couple—the parents of a murder victim—want revenge. They plan a trip to the Prison Planet where they will track down the monster that killed their child, and destroy him in the exact same way that he destroyed their lives.

2. In a World where society has shunted its unwanted off to a Prison Planet for centuries, the government is faced with a problem. The Prison Planet is dying. Do they let all of the citizens die cruel and unusual deaths, or do they stage the largest rescue mission ever to bring back to a crowded planet the outcasts, criminals and degenerates that they worked so hard to rid themselves of?

3. In a World where a supreme court has ruled that “cruel and unusual” punishment excludes the death penalty, the first batch of off world prisoners is sent to the new facility on Ganesh XIX, where they will be housed forever. But when they arrive, they realize they’re not alone on the planet—and one by one they start disappearing.

4. In a World where cities have been abandoned for fear of terrorist attacks where people gather, one group of artists braves the the occupied downtown core to rescue a sculpture from a museum. The only problem is—the straggling, violent city dwellers never let country people in, and they sure as hell never let country people out.

5. In a World where society is split into two classes, the New Trade Marxists are pitted against the Transactionists in a televised battle supreme. The loser will banish all of their believers to a distant planet. The winner takes over the one-world economy and will decide forevermore what future humanity follows.

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Friday
Jan 20, 2006

When Worlds Collide posted by kza

I’m a curmudgeon about donuts, so it all evens out.

Holy shit, Burley, those are all fucking awesome. I’m particularly taken with #1 (I could jump into that one right now and hit it running) and #5, even if it is similar to Minority Report. [That’s okay, cuz a) Minority Report wasn’t as great as it could’ve been, and b) I never get tired of those kind of stories.]

Oh, and dude, let’s only go to 25 apiece. Even steven down the middle. 11 more for you; 12 more for me, after these five:

  1. In a world where there is no war and everything is provided for you, one technician discovers that this utopia is surrounded by a force-field, imprisoning the populace from the outside world. What he doesn’t realize is that the field isn’t there to keep them in — it’s to keep something out.

  2. In a world populated only by vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of darkness, one young ghoul yearns to escape the hierarchal, monster-eat-monster society. And when he discovers a hole into our universe, he finds the one thing he needs most: a friend. But the once the gate is open, the forces of the night, once dispelled from the human realm, seek to reclaim what was once theirs.

  3. In a world built to hold the accumulated knowledge of the universe, the monks of Liber XII tend to the databases from birth to death. But when an alien computer virus finds its way into the memory banks, the monks are imprisoned on a sentient planet that knows every way to control — every way to punish — and every way to kill ever invented. Can the monks stop Liber XII from destroying the universe?

  4. A cross-country bus traveling through New Mexico encounters a mysterious gateway and breaks down in Skull County, a world of endless desert, vampire cycle gangs and deadly Vixens. Can this ragtag group — a children’s magician, an ex-firefighter, a retiree, a student, and a former Olympic boxer — survive in this hostile world without end and find a way home?

  5. In a world that is about to end in disease, blood and madness, the rich huddle in their extravagant compounds while the poor are left to die. As they amuse themselves with forbidden delights and wait for a new world to be born, a stranger emerges from the shadows to become the hit of the social scene. But what dark secret does he hide behind his black sunglasses?

[Gee, what am I ripping off here? :-) ]

Bonus idea that doesn’t count towards my 25: I’ve been trying to think of an idea where the Prison Planet is microscopic in nature — ideally, it would be a narrativization of some kind of biological process, like cells in a body or a virus trying to escape its host. Unfortunately, I’m not versed enough in that field to write something that was both narratively interesting and didn’t sound like ramblings of a scientific illiterate.

Bonus mea culpa: I guess they don’t have to be SF.

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Wednesday
Jan 18, 2006

The War of the Worlds posted by Martin

A few ticks off the old goal. Also, just a point of trivia: I consider most Alcatraz movies Prison Planet movies.

1. In a World where stranded humans must guard themselves from a poisonous atmosphere, one scientist finds a process for rendering the air on the planet breathable. The only problem is, the planet is a prison and the guards will kill them all if they found out about the experiments.

2. In a World where humanoids live mostly underwater, and are equipped with gills, an aquatic princess falls for a mysterious air-breather who appears suddenly in their land without warning. He’s kind, intelligent and handsome, but will she find out that he’s been banished to their planet for an unspeakable crime?

3. In a World where politicians are devastatingly corrupt, and the uncaring populace is consumed with instant feedback news cycles, one pundit goes off her script and screams out a warning live on the air, before being cut off and mysteriously disappearing. Was this part of their plan, or could it be that somebody broke from the ranks of the elite in an attempt to save humanity?

4. In a world where people trust one another and crimes are extremely low, one event threatens to eradicate the long-admired peace: there’s been a prison break on Half Moon, where society disposes of all of its criminals. They’re coming back for revenge, and they’re armed.

5. In a World where crimes are judged and juried by encrypted, anonymous computer terminals, one jury foreman doesn’t realize that the man she’s arguing so strongly should be committed to the Prison Planet for life is actually her husband—and the crime he’s accused of—but hasn’t committed yet—is murdering her.

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Wednesday
Jan 18, 2006

Re:[2] The State of the Software posted by Martin

Okay—let’s go with Celtx as our engine. Hear that Celtx? We pick you!

I have to confess I’m rather curmudgeonly about software. I wish I was a true hacker so that I could craft these marvelous things out of thin air, typed commands and lots of { } brackets. A good piece of software is an amazing thing to behold, and a marvelous thing to use.

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Wednesday
Jan 18, 2006

Re: The State of the Software posted by kza

Actually, I don’t have any problem with using Celtx for Spitball!, and I think it might be fun to try. Regardless, tho, the next thing I write, I’m gonna take a shot and try and write the whole thing in Celtx. There are still some issues that make it weaker than FD (the “stay at the bottom of the page” thing, and the Tabbing isn’t as intuitive as FD), but I like where they’re going with the latest release (the character and scene notes section is nifty).

I am curious about this Montage thing, however. What does “create your script as a live outline” mean, exactly?

(If you know Burley and me, you know that we salivate like huskies with a gland condition at the mention of “outline” and “software” in the same sentence.)

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Tuesday
Jan 17, 2006

The State of the Software posted by Martin

A few months ago I was so mad at Final Draft, that I started writing a spec for a screenwriting software for Macintosh. In my mind, it would by a Carbon or Cocoa app, and write to an open, human readable format that—should someone stop using the software—they could open with another program. Ideally, that format would be open sourced, and any other program that wanted to write to it could. The program would retail around $30-$40, in the range of a lot of other cool software that I use almost daily.

I was sparked on this quest by an exchange with the Final Draft tech support. I asked them about how I could go about exchanging my disk. I use Final Draft 6, not having found in the newest version any compelling—or, really any—reason to upgrade. I bought Final Draft with version 5, and updated to six only to get OS X support (Both Urban and I are Mac users), since it really lacked any other revolutionary feature additions. When I bought my upgrade it came on a CD-R, which, as anybody can tell you, is a cheaper and softer substrate. Much more prone to scratches than a manufactured CD.

And see, I have this problem that I have to haul the disk everywhere. I have a desktop and a laptop, but I do most of my writing on my desktop. Final Draft kindly allows you to install the program on two computers, but not-so-kindly insists that you boot the program on the second computer with the CD in the drive. This, after the serial number, and having the program “authenticated” by remote connection to the Final Draft headquarters. So, I had to chose: either put the disk in every damn time I start the program on my desktop, which is quite often when we’re deep at work and authenticate my laptop which I rarely use, or do the opposite and carry the stupid disk with me. Which I do. Everywhere. So, if I’m inspired, I won’t have to open the program in “demo” mode. Which has happened to me. More than once. And I couldn’t write.

But, the goddamned disk is scratched up, and it’s gonna go bad. I carry it in a CD wallet with soft sleeves, but it’s a cheap CD-R and will scratch if you look at it funny. So I contact Final Draft, figuring for shipping they’ll give me a new disk, since the one they gave me is pretty much defective—but nope. $20, and I have to send them my disk first. I’m sorry, but $20 on a program I already own, that I need to run the program as licensed, and I have to send it to them first? I hear you loud and clear Final Draft: LICENSED USERS OF OUR SOFTWARE ARE NOT TO BE TRUSTED FOR ANY REASON. THEY COULD, YOU KNOW, NOT SEND THE DISK AND THEN GIVE IT TO SOMEONE WHO WOULD STILL NEED A SERIAL NUMBER TO RUN THE PROGRAM, BUT THEY COULD GET THAT AND THEN WHERE WOULD WE BE? I mean, I accept the serial number, the license, the bloody expensive software to begin with—but this just ticked me off. I hate being assumed I’m a criminal, when I’m jumping through their stupid hoops.

The woman at Final Draft was extremely helpful. I could upgrade, she explained to me, and since they’ve fixed this strange reason they need my disk back in the next version. Kind of her, no? Only $89.00.

So, I started writing my spec.

But, here’s the thing: I like the usability of Final Draft. It’s a fast program to write in. From what I hear, Movie Magic Screenwriter is pretty much the same (in every way—same copy protection, same pricing, same pain-in-the-ass, but good usability). And so bloody expensive! Sure, huge movies might be written on them, but more than likely, the products belong to wanna-be’s with little cash—which, when you think about it, is probably why they put the copy protection in. Another option might be, you know, actually pricing the thing reasonably, but I digress.

See, there’s a big inherent problem in writing the perfect screenwriting package: once you write a usable text editor, there’s really no need to keep upgrading it. Sure, you can add feature after feature, but Final Draft’s sharing feature is a total and complete JOKE (which, crashed continuously on our computers every time we tried to use it). Compare this to the amazing Coding Monkey’s SubEthaEdit (free for personal use, but if you’re a big bad company it will set you back $35.00. Reasonable!), and how they handled the sharing. So easy I wrote to them and begged them to license it to Final Draft. But, they ignored me. So, I was back to just hating Final Draft and writing my spec.

Before I got to far, though, I did a Google search for open source screenwriting software, and was totally jazzed when I found Celtx. Celtx is free, and available for Mac and Windows, so go grab it if you don’t have it. As of this writing, it’s nearing the end of its beta life, although each revision brings tons of changes. It’s very promising software, which will include screenwriting and production capabilities. But, and there’s always a but—the usability is not great. It’s built on the Mozilla programming framework, so looks and feels like Firefox, which is admirable, but not so great and less than elegant. And, it doesn’t currently add (more)s and (con’t)s. But, in a stroke of absolute, unadorned, crazily amazing brilliance, it stores all of your screenplays as a html files. Because of its price, and open-sourciness, and the openness of the file format, we will likely use this as the software of choice for posting the script when we get to writing it.

But what will we write it in? Well, another contender in the mac world was just announced. I have high hopes, although I won’t hold my breath until I see how it works. Also, it’s announced price—$150—is still high, in my book. I’ve begged to be a beta tester, and I’ll report back on my findings if allowed by the license.

But since Mr. Shockah and I both own licenses to Final Draft, I suspect that will be what we use. Until some awesome hacker comes along who loves Macs and wants to make some coin undercutting all of the competition with a sweet little package….Let me know. I’ll work for free on it.

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Tuesday
Jan 17, 2006

It's a World World World World World posted by Martin

Did you know if you Google (in quotes) “In a world” the first response is the Beastie Boys website? Now that’s another world for pirate treasure.

Anyway—As much as I liked your original 8 “In a World” scenarios (forever now known as IAWS), I think pumping out a big old slew of them is a great idea. Here’s the ones I could come up with as quick as possible (I made it to 9—33 to go!):

1. In a world where galactic criminals are rounded and left to die on one planet, one man—a crooked cop—must penetrate their violent society to spring a prison break with the leader of the most ruthless gang. If he succeeds, his name is clear. If he fails, Earth will fall to INVADING IMPATIENT ALIENS.

2. In a world where all information is open and no person is private, a grad student stumbles on an ancient secret that could threaten the base of human knowledge…how can you communicate if all language is rendered illegible? Her enemies want to rebuild the tower. Get ready for BABEL.

3. In a world where your DNA is patented and you are born in debt, one woman’s refusal to pay off her birth-deficit lands her in the largest and most violent debtors prison that ever existed: THE PLANET EARTH.

4. In a world devout to an all powerful god, one man uncovers exposes an unspeakable truth: their planet wasn’t carved by a deity, it was created to hold the most dangerous prisoners in the galaxy: their ancestors. What crime is so unspeakable that not only you will be punished for committing it, but all of your heirs will as well? And what happens when you find out that your captors are still watching your every move?

5. In a world where four teenagers are about to become world champions of the Prison Planet Videogame playoffs, someone sabotages their game units and they enter the most violent world ever conceived with no way of escaping, and NO RE-SPAWNING ALLOWED.

6. In a world where lawyers are the only legal parents, two couples are condemned for reproducing without license and sentenced to banishment on the sterile Prison Planet. The only problem is that one of them is the PRESIDENT OF THE BAR.

7. In a world where friendly monks care for a shipwrecked space traveller carrying a deadly secret, ten outposters learn just what it means to be held prisoner on your own planet. With help four hundred light years away, they have no choice but to break their oath of silence and peace, and defend themselves from certain death. [1]

8. In a world where gender roles are reversed and women keep tight rule over their mates, men who act out are sent to Prison Planet! The intense spa planet where a crack team of psychologists will teach them about life, friendship, caring, laughter, and of course—about love.

9. In a world where warning clans tear the landscape in half, two teenagers find each other outside of societies constraints. Love, it seems, can flourish in war. But what happens when their parents find out that their children are trying to escape their grasp, and the only other livable land in the galaxy is THE PRISON PLANET?

[1] Ummm, this one might sound slightly familiar…

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Monday
Jan 16, 2006

Brief Moment of Inspiration posted by Martin

I was flipping through an online book on the programming language Python, and came across this great quote. It may be about computer programming, but it applies to writing, plots and other logics:

There are two ways of constructing a software design: one way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies; the other is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.
C. A. R. Hoar

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Monday
Jan 16, 2006

Re:[2] In a World... posted by kza

The funny thing about the In A World… post was that, by the end, I didn’t really care about the specifics of each story. What was useful for me was taking the idea (Prison Planet) and seeing what kind of “movement” each kind of story could give it. For example, when Richard Garfield was designing “Magic: The Gathering” (and presumably when he designed other games) was he would sit down with blank cards and before he even really knew what the rules were, he would play with them. What is it like when I turn a card ninety degrees? What’s it like if I lay out cards in a pattern on the table? What’s it like to draw cards from a deck? Is there a difference in feel between drawing three cards or seven?

So I ended up thinking about that post in a similar way. When I think of “Prison Planet” as a concept, I think of prisoners on a planet that want to get off. But what else can be done with the concept? For me the breakthrough of #5 is that the character finds the hidden Prison Planet and goes there. In #6, the character wants to break into the Prison Planet, which sounded fun and cool. The idea behind #7 is that escape is impossible, and maybe not even desired by the end. In #4, the idea that the Prison Planet is kind of a front for something else (the “ancient secret underneath”) was what was most interesting to me.

So while I do like some of the small specifics of each idea, I’m not married to any of them, and seeing how skeletal they are, I think some cannibalism from the other ideas will be necessary :-)

But here are my favorites:

My third favorite, #6, is also, oddly, my least favorite. I like the ridiculous idea of combining blatant supernatural elements in a SF setting — it appeals to my love of mash-ups and novelties. And what’s good about it is also what’s bad about it for this project: I read it and I feel like I know it already. It’s basically “The Dirty Dozen vs. Underworld… in SPAAAACE!”. And while normally I’d be attracted to something that’s structurally already kind of prefab, I think this project needs something that’s a little more mysterious and more difficult. Also, while other ideas lend themselves to different kinds of expressions (drama, comedy, etc.), this one seems primarily action-oriented.

Second favorite is, perhaps surprisingly, #1. Yes, it’s awfully vague and a little corny, but that’s also the appeal. What’s suggested here is emotions as weaponry, something kind of invisible and intangible in a concrete, material SF world, and I kinda like that. However, one of the pitfalls of “Prison Planet” (and probably most screenplays) is steering away from the pure, always-right protagonist in a world that’s evil and clearly wrong, and this one is already pointed in that direction.

First favorite, and head and shoulders above the rest, is #5. Here’s why: The conflicts stated have already given us huge clues as to the character of the protagonist. We know that she lives in a world of unimaginable amounts of data, and she makes an choice to escape from all that. She finds a place that is “off the grid”, and decides to fight for her place there. But where in a lot of these ideas, fighting is literally physical fighting (and that tells us nothing about the character; if a character doesn’t fight when attacked, usually that means the end of the story), the fighting here might be of a different sort: it could be emotional manipulation, economic bargaining, political maneuvering. And also already embedded in this skeletal frame are a number of parallels and contrasts that could be interesting. I’m assuming that this woman, because of the data universe she inhabits, is well-off, but she’s looking to escape this everything-at-your-fingertips society for something more primitive. (She could be leaving because of a scandal or because “she knows too much” or the like, but it works for me if it’s simple dissatisfaction, ennui.) So she finds this “off the grid” planet, but to her surprise, it’s a prison planet. (Perhaps the prisoners are either political in nature — they’ve been “disappeared” — or they’re the descendants of those prisoners.) But these people are probably longing to get “plugged back in” to the universe at large and probably want her to help them. And what happens to them and her if they did? But while there’s an obvious action/thriller quality to all this, I can also see it as a space version of something like Out of Africa or The Piano — a space period drama, if you will.

But while we both like this one and we could proceed on it now, I wouldn’t mind taking the time to develop more of these “In A World”s. I’m thinking of aiming for 50 — that would give us enough to choose from, and a lot of material to cannibalize from as well. (And obviously, the “In A World”s are my way of canvassing the territory in an Inside->Outside way, like your way of circling the story world and asking questions is your Outside->Inside way.)

What do you think?

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Monday
Jan 16, 2006

Re: In A World... posted by Martin

An echoing voice in my head, visions of fast-cut explosions and action set to pounding, pulsing, throbbing music. I have heard your narrator.

So on a quick reaction, here are my top three that I’d like to see (and therefore, write), with a few of my own notes:

#3 Telepathy as a disease? Keeping a secret when everybody can read your mind? Genius. Awesome. Bravo. Tricky, I’d imagine, and complex, but a concept worthy of the challenges.
#5 Ideas like diseases—much like commercial jingles and memes. Also, because I’ve always loved the Inferno. What about a twist that posits Dante himself visited this land with aliens, and wrote the Inferno as code to the world? Talk about ideas as disease—the Inferno of Dante became the modern hell of the Christians, after all.
#7 We can already figure the market value for a human life, no matter how despicable this might be, but imagine if robotics had advanced to the point where you could transfer consciousness to another being? Then suddenly, the soul would have a value outside of life itself. What if the rebellion was remaining human?

Honorable mention: Robots fighting to help us fight for our humanity? My hat is off, sir.

A question: can we combine some of these ideas? I’ll see if you like any of my feedback first, but imagine that only humans who have transferred their souls (#7) to advanced robots have the telepathy (#3).

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Saturday
Jan 14, 2006

In A World... posted by kza

In an attempt to get this ball rolling a little faster, and as the Designated Inside Man digging my way up from the center toward the outside (I’ll explain that later), I present to you eight (8) premises for a Prison Planet movie, written in the style of a cheesy trailer voiceover, composed as quickly as I can. I’m not promising quality here, mind you, merely quantity. Enjoy!

  1. In a world where love is outlawed and only outlaws love, one woman, imprisoned on a planet for the ultimate crime, will break the bonds of her captivity and take the battle to the heart of the enemy.

  2. In a world where humanity is rapidly evolving, but only the pure have the power, one man will lead his fellow Impuritans against the oppressors… and the war for the future of the human race will begin.

  3. In a world where telepathy is a disease and the infected are prisoners, one woman will discover a shocking truth that could change everything… but on a world where a mind can be read as easily as opening a book, how can any secret be safe?

  4. In a world where no one dies and everyone lives forever, the universe’s most dangerous criminals are confined to one planet. But when one man, convicted of a crime he did not commit, finds an ancient secret under the planet’s surface, he finds the means to escape… that could… set… the universe… ON FIRE.

  5. In a world where information is the only currency, and ideas can be contracted like diseases, one woman finds the ultimate oasis in a universe of data. But to keep it, she’ll have to fight the most hardened and despicable people in the galaxy: the prisoners of Dante IV.

  6. In a world where vampires and werewolves prowl the galaxy, and the Ultimate Evil plots the downfall the Last Free Men, one man will find hope where he least expects it: in the hearts of the most dangerous criminals the world has ever seen. There’s only one problem: they’re locked away in the most impregnable prison ever created.

  7. In a world where lives are bought and sold with the touch of a button, and the human soul has a market value, one woman will rebel and pay the ultimate price: Banishment. On this planet, she must learn to survive by only her strength, her wits… and the knowledge that SOME THINGS ARE NOT FOR SALE.

  8. In a world where biological organisms are outlawed and only the metal-born may rule, mankind are condemned to a single outpost on the edge of the galaxy. But one man discovers the secret of the machines, and with the help of a sympathetic group of robots, they will rise up and fight for our dignity, our integrity…. and our humanity.

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Friday
Jan 13, 2006

Re:[2] Sci Fi? posted by Martin

A. Unless we were seriously going to explore the idea of “Prison Planet” as a metaphor, of course its going to be SF in some sense.

Maybe I should have tagged it with the “humor” category. I posted that because it was a blatantly stupid thing to think, and therefore funny that I caught myself thinking it. Kind of like thinking “Hmmm. Ford is really pushing the F-150 into that truck genre.” Or, “Wow. This dialogue is really pushing itself into the webpage genre.”

B. Genre isn’t for marketers. Genre is legitimate framework or window through which to view a story. Every genre has its conventions, and you can play them straight or subvert them.

I would argue that genre is to movies was genus is to animals. The animal doesn’t care if it’s a grizzly bear, but the biologist cares that it belongs to the genus Ursinae. By the same token, I don’t really care what genre we’re in, and see it as a construct of critics, analytics and marketers. I’ve never once met a musician who said “I’m going for AOR mid-tempo with an alternative edge,” and I’ve never met a story that said “I need to be seen as a love story to be appreciated.” Quite the opposite, I think the best of any creative categories are the ones that seem to be within one genre or another, and then transcend it.

It’s like the old saw about the painter who is walking down the street and meets a critic. The critic says “Hey, I just saw your show, and it’s incredible. Your use of chiaroscuro is masterful, and your brush strokes are sublime. You are truly emulating the Dutch Masters.” Then the painter walked down the street and met another painter who says “Hey, I just saw your show. What kind of turpentine do you use?”

But in the end, isn’t the basic idea of character meets resistance to achieving their desires, and the struggle that ensues what is really important? Or, to put a big meta hat on it, man vs. himself, man vs. man, or man vs. nature is all the genre you need.

Or, what came first: the genre or the story?

Okay—to many ors in the water here….

All that said, there are times when you want to follow genre tropes, and times when you want to avoid them. There are times where I argue that creativity flourishes most in constraint rather than vacuum. And, I’m not at all arguing that genre isn’t valuable in context, but in my mind, to start categorizing before you create is to start limiting. Since we will hopefully have experiences of having to do that (“Hey kid. Write me a slasher flick”), I don’t think I’ll be paying too much attention to it right now. But, if it helps your process, more power yo.

D. Anyway, the point is, when you think “SF” you think of limited boundaries; when I think of “SF”, I think of a lack of them. Therefore, SF, to me, really isn’t a genre.

Let me clarify. When I think “SF” I don’t think limited boundaries, when I think genre I think limited boundaries. Let me state that I love SF, I read and watch SF, and SF is my favorite genre (well, Sci-Fi Horror really). So, I make these statements not to detract from the oeuvre, but to make my point that all genre contains constraint to me. If I start thinking genre too soon, I’ll start plotting along genre lines, and measuring against trope, and making sure I hit the genre talking points. If I think Western, I’ll start thinking classic Western, but I may want to think Dead Man or that episode of Futurama where they went to Amy’s family homestead on Mars. My final point being, I don’t want to limit myself so early in the game that I miss an angle that might become the key for us to unlock this monster.

Comments (0) — Category: technique

Friday
Jan 13, 2006

Re: Sci Fi? posted by kza

A. Unless we were seriously going to explore the idea of “Prison Planet” as a metaphor, of course its going to be SF in some sense.

B. Genre isn’t for marketers. Genre is legitimate framework or window through which to view a story. Every genre has its conventions, and you can play them straight or subvert them. I like subversion myself (or maybe I’m just saying subversion is easier, since playing it straight and doing it well seems much harder to me), but that’s also why The Corrections came up so early in this discussion — one way to avoid the “same ol’ same ol” is to start mixing DNA and create mutants.

C. Yet: SF can mean Star Wars, Star Trek. It can mean Terminator or Alien(s). It can mean Primer or Solaris. It can also mean Videodrome, The Brood, or even Crash (1996). (It’s both cool and kinda sad that those last three are by the same guy.) SF, to me, is about taking an idea or premise that simply doesn’t exist at all in the real world and extrapolating something (usually a story) out of it.

D. Anyway, the point is, when you think “SF” you think of limited boundaries; when I think of “SF”, I think of a lack of them. Therefore, SF, to me, really isn’t a genre.

E. Five Days of Continuous Blogging — I did it!

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Friday
Jan 13, 2006

Genre is for Marketers posted by Martin

Prison planet as a banishment planet—interesting idea. Although, it doesn’t make so much sense to me that an advanced culture would use a single planet, and all of its resources, for one single crime. Or, let me restate that—I don’t see an advanced society using multiple planets for one crime each (if that’s what you were saying). I could imagine enclaves on that planet, or a larger population of one type than another. Or, were you saying that the only event that sparks banishment is telepathy? That’s the only “crime” that is deemed extreme enough to banish people? In any case, the telepathy idea is great. I think we should play with that and see if we can get any traction.

But what if the telepathy people were having to live on the same planet with murderers and rapists? (by the way—by sexual offenses I wasn’t thinking of sexual orientation, although I like that interpretation, but I meant more like molesters of children). What if the telepaths had to defend their turf, what would their society look like? Would they form alliances? What would the politics look like? Would there be rapist nations? Murderer countries? Boy, does that raise issues of intolerance and old-world cultural bigotry.

Also, given variations in nature, I would imagine that telepathy would be stronger in some people, and less strong in others. And the focus would be different—just like the locus of attention can be narrowed to filter out the external stimuli around us every day. Without that, it seems that we would have a society of severely autistic people. Imagine telepathy in today’s world: we’d have the nosy neighbor woman using telepathy to spread rumors. We’d have guys on the make trying to use telepathy to score, only to be shot down by more telepathic women. We’d have religious people using open telepathy to prove that their hearts and minds are pure. We’d have liars who use telepathy to send many mixed messages about themselves, to confuse people. Or, is telepathy not about sending at all but about receiving? You can’t broadcast anything, but people can just read your mind? How accurate is the read, then?

What are the courts like in telepathic society? What are the cops like? How wide is the range of telepathy? Can anybody ever escape? Do telepathic mothers tell their children that they can only play as far as the mother’s telepathy reaches? How do telepathic wives cheat on telepathic husbands? How do telepathic husbands hide their homosexuality from telepathic wives? The answer to that last question would seem to be, “they can’t,” but then what about people who hide great truths from themselves? Do telepathic people have a greater insight to other people’s plights than they do themselves, or is telepathy tempered by the same messy thinking that constitutes our minds? Do telepathic people rely on others to tell them how they should live? Do they get other people’s thoughts confused with their own? How do they intermingle—at what point are they not individuals, and become the Borg? Are there telepathic “Chatty Cathy’s?” What’s the telepathic equivalent of the dude who sits on the couch and grunts in reply to any question?

Can telepathy be targeted? Can I read one mind around me, or do I have to read all the minds? Is it trainable, like a radio dial, or is it a flood of messages like the floor of the NY Stock Exchange? Do the thoughts compete? How does one stand out?

All these questions are just leading to my need to understand the rules of the game. If we define those, it might make our world more interesting. Although, we are raised with the specter of having to visually show people’s thoughts.

But our hero: the idea about telepathy raises a few ideas. Either we have a messiah story of sorts (ala Harry Potter, or the Matrix) where a child is born who has the power to block people from reading his mind, but he can read others, and therefore solve societies biggest problem. (Note: I’m using the he pronoun for convenience, this child could also be a girl—although we will need a love interest, and the sex of the child would lead to different dynamics there).

or

We have a Chicken Little story of sorts, where a seemingly ordinary—or better still, downtrodden—kid notices something—like that the Prison Planet is no longer guarded, or that some large cultural assumption is untrue, and the trouble that this person has trying to convince the society that they are right.

I have always liked messiah stories, personally, they are resonant beyond culture—the basis of many superhero stories. But, we would need to build a world with strong enough resistance, that the appearance of the messiah is inevitable. Which is not to say I’m against the chicken little idea.

Of course, that leads us to think more about the planet itself. Is it guarded, and are the guards on the surface, or maybe in satellite space stations? Are the guards robotic? How old is the Prison Planet? What if a society picked a prison planet for their telepathic outcasts, and it was already populated by another sentient race? Not to get to Star Treky here (the rocks are communicating with us, and they challenge our concept of sentient races! Don’t hurt the rocks, you goddamn miners!), but a race encountering another race is always good. What if our group is the first group of banished? What would their pioneer life be like? What if they voluntarily went to the planet? Sure, that wouldn’t be a prison planet, but I don’t want to be closed to a great idea, even if it twists our original spark.

Finally, I made the quip yesterday about sci-fi. It could have been my lack of thinking clearly, but it’s also because I just don’t care about genre. Genre is for marketers to tag the movie after we write it. I have to be careful, because as soon as I say “Oh, we’re working in sci-fi,” then I’ll immediately start limiting myself to things that I think that genre contains. If we need to, we can constrain later, but I need to remind myself to push the boundaries early on.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Thursday
Jan 12, 2006

Sci Fi? posted by Martin

In reading Mr. Shockah’s recent posts I actually caught myself thinking: “Interesting—he wants to take Prison Planet to the sci-fi genre…”

Longer commentary coming when my mind is actually operating the way it should.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Thursday
Jan 12, 2006

Reading List: Alfred Bester posted by kza


“Reading List” is a new feature I just made up because I need to get my Spitball! quota out of the way. Whether or not it’s a continuing feature is up to time and tide. Also, the link to the forum will take you to the “Books” section of the forum, because, well, that makes sense.

Alfred Bester (1913 - 1987) was a SF writer, best known for two seminal novels, The Demolished Man and The Stars, My Destination. Check out the Wikipedia entry for more info cuz the Shockah aint about no biographical sketches. Instead, Reading List is about how these books might inform The Screenplay.

The Demolished Man takes place in a world where the police force is made up mainly of telepaths, and they’re powerful enough that they can tell when someone’s going to commit a crime, and can stop them before they do it. (Yeah, it’s kinda like Minority Report but with telepathy instead of precognition.) Anyway, the plot is about a billionaire businessman who decides to murder his closest rival, and the steps he takes to get away with it and not get caught by the lead telepathic detective. (Supposedly the guy who did Chopper was going to do a film version; I don’t know what happened to it, but I saw it in my head with Michael Douglas and Denzel Washington in the leads. Of course, that would be hideous typecasting.)

The Stars, My Destination is about Gully Foyle, a grunt on a spaceship who survives the destruction of the ship when everyone else dies, and vows revenge on the passing spaceship that neglects to pick him up. Like everyone says, it’s basically a riff on The Count of Monte Cristo, as this illiterate, violent man remakes himself into faux-royalty in order to get closer to his object of revenge. (It’d be perfect for Ving Rhames or that guy who played Kingpin in Daredevil. Or even the Rock, come to think of it. But not Vin; he’s played out. Sorry, Vin.) Oh, did I mention that, along the way, he ends up on a Prison Planet?

Well, I don’t recall the whole planet being a prison, but it’s an interesting idea for one: it’s a huge cavern network without any lights whatsoever, so the prisoners are functionally blind. And naked, as well. (Wait, maybe that’s why Vin would’t be such a great choice — too much like that Riddick guy.) I don’t remember how he gets out (I remember he has help from a woman prisoner — it’s coed), but that’s kinda what both these Bester books are like — impossible situations that could only exist in their SF worlds, and the remarkably clever solutions the protagonists devise to solve them. (How do you keep a telepath from learning you want to murder someone? Does “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” mean anything to you?)

So now I’m realizing that it’s pretty damn hard to talk about these books in any detail without spoiling them, and they’re too good to spoil. One thing, tho, that might be worth stealing being inspired by: Bester’s visual imagination. Well, thing is, I don’t remember a whole lot of expository description in his books, but I’m left with a definite look in my head. It’s kinda Gilliamish, like maybe if Gilliam did Dune. Slightly comic-booky, with vibrant primary colors and basic geometric shapes — ah! I just realized the look it makes me think of: Moebius. Anyway, for the time being, that’s the visual sensibility I think I’ll be bringing to Prison Planet. No doubt it will evolve into something else, but that’s what I’m starting with. Oh, another thing possibly worth stealing borrowing: The style of his names. Some examples: Gully Foyle. @kins. Peter Y’ang-Yeovil. Presteign of Presteign. Robin Wednesbury. Keno Quizzard. It’s like a cross between Dickens and Vonnegut.

Anyway, that’s my Public Service Reading Announcement for the day, from a guy who reads like maybe five books a year. Look for my next Reading List installment in about a month — it’ll probably be Alistair Horne’s book about the Paris Commune. That could provide a lot of interesting inspiration!

Comments (0) — Category: books

Wednesday
Jan 11, 2006

Brass Tacks posted by kza

Like probably a lot of people, my best ideas seem to come to me at the worst possible times: in the shower, trying to fall asleep, oral sex. (I kid on one of those.) Last night, while watching The Simpsons Season 7, Disc 4 for the umpteenth time (The Simpsons is a sleep-aid around my house), I began to think about how to contribute directly to this Prison Planet idea. I came up with some good ideas. And then I fell asleep.

So now I’m going to try and reconstruct those good thoughts and see if there’s soup in ‘em. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be able to reconstruct the witticisms they were couched in. (I’ll probably recapitulate a lot of what Grymz said already in the first post about the Prison Planet, but I think it’s a good idea to go over stuff continuously — I find it’s difficult to find something truly new unless the old is as familiar as your own body.)

Okay, so this is a Prison Planet. This indicates that we’re dealing with some kind of galactic empire. Now, some knowledge of this galactic empire will probably be necessary at some point, but right now, I don’t care. Not important. The galactic empire can go fuck themselves for the time being. Right now, all I want to know about is the Prison Planet. (And ideally, the Prison Planet, what it’s about, why it’s there, will give us clues as to the character and makeup of the galactic empire.)

Now, if we have a planet that’s devoted solely to being a place of incarceration, that suggests two extremes: That it’s basically the prison for the empire, and the prisoners are there for every possible type of crime, or that the planet is for one particular type of prisoner, one particular type of crime. (Obviously, there can be middle ground between the two extremes, but talking about the extremes is better suited for my purposes at this point.)

Which, if forced to choose, is the better choice? I’d prefer to go with the second. It’s simpler. It raises more questions than it answers. If we went with the first one, and know that it’s simply a prison like any other, but only on a planetary scale, then I think a lot of interesting possibilities are closed off. (Not all, just a lot.) But if it’s only one type of crime that is being punished on this planet — that’s more interesting. What kind of crime needs its own planet to successfully incarcerate its prisoners? I have, what I hope, are some interesting ideas for that, but let’s go to the next level of Prison Planet design.

The next big choice is: Is there an infrastructure and bureaucracy that runs the prison? Or are the prisoners left to fend for themselves? (And if they fend for themselves, have they recreated their own civilization?) Of course, there’s a whole spectrum of in-between here that’s possible, but, to get started, I think it best to pick one extreme and subtle it out later. If were to choose, I think I’d go for the former — my predilection, in this case, is for a story that was more about the use and delegation of power (think Abu Ghraib) than one that was more about the sociological workings of a world, which is what the second indicates to me. (Normally, I’d be all for the second one, but I think I’m more into that when it’s based on the real present or past, not made up out of whole cloth.)

(And it should be noted here that none of these opinions are writ in stone; in fact, right now, they’re more like passing fancies. If someone can come up with a killer story or character that needs “the prisoners fend for themselves” world, then by all means.)

Finally, the last major choice at this time is, what kind of crime puts a person on the Prison Planet? I’ve already thrown out, for now, the idea that all crimes are represented on Prison Planet. So what is it that condemns someone here? Burley listed some of the possibilities: Rape, murder, sexual offenses (which I assume by which he means something like sexual orientation), political expediency. None of these quite work for me. They could if someone has the right spin on it, but right now I’m not seeing it. None of these seem extreme enough to require their own planet (which, admittedly, is a problem because of my own choice.) And this is one of the things that hit me last night:

What if the crime was a disease?

That would go a long way in explaining why they have their own planet. It’s almost more like Quarantine Planet rather than Prison Planet. (It also makes me think how this could end up a SF remake of >Papillon, which I’d definitely watch, but isn’t really what I want to do here.) So all these prisoners could be afflicted with Space AIDS or Space Leprosy or Space Asian Bird Flu or what have you, and, in that case, the Prison Planet would seem (seem) to be just as beneficial for the prisoners as it would be for the rest of the empire, assuming that they were treated the same way we treat people who suffer from disease.

The major problem with that idea is, of course, that having a disease, while unfortunate, isn’t usually a crime, unless we’re talking Super Draconian Empire. Also, disease usually = death, so all these prisoners are doomed to die. There’s potential there (Prisoner doesn’t want to die on this rock and tries to escape to another planet where it’s said there’s a cure), but it’s kinda getting away from the whole Prison Planet idea and what it represents. But then I had another idea. Or rather, I decided to steal blatantly from Douglas Adams:

What if the disease was telepathy?

Mass telepathy would really fuck a nation up, in a lot of ways. It’d be almost impossible to keep political and military secrets. It’d be almost impossible to keep personal secrets, infidelities and such. And as Douglas Adams explained, being stuck around a bunch of telepaths would drive anyone insane. (IIRC, Adams suggested that one telepathic race invented incessant small-talk to maintain sanity.) And, just to make things more interesting, what if it was a disease that was really hard to contract? What if you had to more or less make a conscious choice to contract it? Well, there’s your crime right there.

That’s a lot of writing for what amounts to be a few small ideas. I have some more (including an alternate disease) but I’ll stop now and wait for feedback. Ball has been passed to Burley.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Tuesday
Jan 10, 2006

What is a meta for? posted by Martin

Two interesting points in your last post about Prison Planet (which, I hereby propose is our working title. If voted down, I am happy to consider others, but I’m kind of excited about the fact that if we keep writing about this, anybody searching for the term “prison planet” on Google is gonna get inundated with Spitball! posts about it. Currently, they are drawn to political statement websites).

1. Ultimate point of finding a character.
Yes. Of course, and good point. That is our goal, I’d say. Not, as has been our habit in the past, to entwine ourselves in overly complex plot points and lose site of the character within. I would go so far as to say that one of the metrics we should judge Prison Planet by is the emotional resonance of the characters, whatever their state happens to be.

2. Metaphor
Well, yes—the Prison Planet is kind of obvious as one, but I think we should be careful about how we play with metaphor. I would propose that we define a few rules about the world, and then start a search for our protagonist. We find them and their story, and not worry about potential metaphors until we have the script better plotted out. Then we can tighten things to reinforce subtext if needed, but I’ll bet it worms it’s own way into our story through our interests.

To that end, I propose that we both spend some time ruminating on what is exciting or cool to us about the idea of a Prison Planet? We can mesh our ideas and come up with a landscape that might suggest a character. Are you game?

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Tuesday
Jan 10, 2006

Re: what's a Spitball? posted by Martin

I too learned this term from William Goldman, but I didn’t think the term originated with him. After a handy search of the online OED (thanks SPL!), my suspicions were confirmed.

And actually, the use of the term to mean a transfer of information pre-date use as a baseball term by quite a few years. In 1888, the OED attributes the following to Judge 10 Nov. 68/1 “All statements to the opposite are spit-balls at the moon.” The baseball use starts in 1905, in J.J. McGraw’s Official Baseball Guide.

The OED winds up the definition page with our current use: Spitball: “To throw out suggestions for discussion”

The first reference to the movie industry is from 1955, attributed to H. Kurnitz, from his Invasion of Privacy. “I’m just thinking out loud… Spitballing we call it in the movie business.” So, it sounds as if it’s an old Hollywood term.

Other good quotes included C. Larson, in 1976’s Muir’s Blood “‘Are you serious?’ Blixen asked. ‘I’m spitballing,’ Schreiber replied.’” Most curiously, though, we find a quote in the New Yorker from May 1977: “The spitballer won’t grow into his father’s jacket.”

Please note that none of the following have included a mandatory exclamation point with the term, thus leaving us to break what small new ground we can.

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Tuesday
Jan 10, 2006

What's a Spitball? posted by kza

Just realized there might be people out there unfamiliar with the term “spitball”, which makes a lot of our in-jokes (well, maybe only the funny names) incomprehensible.

“Spitballing” is a term invented by William Goldman (author and screenwriter of such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All The President’s Men) as kind of synonym for brainstorming. If you’ve read any of his books (particularly “Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade”), then you know that Goldman loooves to spitball — sit around with other writers and throw out ideas for plots and characters, and, most importantly, taking them to their logical conclusions.

I’d like to think the relevance to our little project goes without saying.

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Tuesday
Jan 10, 2006

Previously, on "Prison Planet" posted by kza

This is my first post on The Screenplay, and I’m not sure where to start. So I’m going to start everywhere at once, and just throw this shit at the wall and see what sticks.

It looks like we�ll be designing the Prison Planet from the ground up, in order to figure out what kind of world we�re dealing with, and what kind of characters and conflicts would emerge from this setting. I�m not against that; on the contrary, in general it�s a good idea. However, I think the ultimate point in doing so should be in discovering a character (ideally, the protagonist) who both is unique by nature and by the conflict that impinges on him � a character that couldn�t exist without the Prison Planet. Also, just to make things more difficult, the character�s unique nature and the conflict should be intertwined, if not the same.

To not have this goal, to simply build the Prison Planet for the sake of itself� To me, it�s like in one of my writing classes when I was at school, when the class built a character from the ground up. Give her a name! What does she do? What does she look like? Where does she live? Etc. Not that these aren�t good questions, but the end result was a Frankenstein�s monster, with no real obvious use. And it�s not that there weren�t any conflicts in the character � I�m sure some were suggested � but they didn�t seem like they were connected to anything in the character. So that�s my big fear with that strategy � that we end up with this thing that�s somewhat interesting in and of itself, but with no real narrative use.

I guess what I�m saying, at risk of looking like some hack screenwriting book author, it�s all about Character + Conflict. If the Prison Planet can give us that (and hopefully, one that couldn�t exist without the Prison Planet), awesome; otherwise, I�m content to start elsewhere. But of course, we won�t know until we try.

So the other thing I was thinking: Prison Planet as metaphor. How can one�s life be a prison planet? One�s city? One�s mind? One�s social world? I�m not arguing that this is a better place to start than a literal Prison Planet; in fact, it seems as hackneyed, if not moreso. But I remember when Burley first mentioned the Prison Planet idea, and my first response (because I like novelty and mash-ups and contrasts in general) is to combine it with something else, and the first thing that popped into my head was Jonathan Franzen�s The Corrections. But I don�t mean that book literally (I�ve never read it), but that as a symbol of a kind of �literariness� that might contrast nicely with the SF pulpiness of a Prison Planet. So one way to incorporate that is to think of it as a metaphor.

Okay, so for my first screenplay post, I shit on everything without offering anything constructive. Great. For my next post, I�ll either contribute directly to the idea of a Prison Planet, or I�ll make the Space Needle disappear. Whichever�s easier.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Tuesday
Jan 10, 2006

The Suggestive Title Inn posted by Martin

Picture of Motel Oral

Oh please, oh please, Mr. Shockah—can we write a scene that takes place here? (found on Motel Hell)

Comments (0) — Category: inspiration

Monday
Jan 09, 2006

How To Use This Site posted by kza

(The following is intended for those new to the site as well as co-administrators who are still trying to wrap their feeble minds around the vast, intimidating thing they’ve helped birth.)

Welcome to Spitball! (Exclamation point is mandatory.)

The point of the site is to write a screenplay, from start to finish, from germinal ideas to 120 pages of dramatic goodness. Although the authors of this site, Burley Grymz and Urban Shockah, are ultimately the authors of the screenplay, we invite everyone on the Blog-o-Web to contribute. That creates some sticky conundrums, so, before you do that, you may want to peruse this and this.

Okay, so you’ve decided to contribute — what now?

Well, first thing, read the entries. Burley and I will, in all likelihood, have a running conversation about the screenplay via blog entries, kinda like how those goofs over at SLOG discuss Brokeback Mountain and threaten to post pictures of nude men and women at each other.

(I say “in all likelihood” because, this being the beginning stages of this site, I have no idea how it will evolve. Stay tuned.)

Anyway, so you’ve read about our ideas and still want to contribute. You’ll notice that instead of blog comments, we have a link that reads, “Comment on this post in the forum”. Because this project is potentially huge and unwieldy, the forum is our home base, our Death Star if you will, where all the ideas will be collected and the real work will be done. Each and every blog post will have an accompanying forum topic, so there should be a place for every idea and every thought. But if not, we also have the “Ideas and Critique” board and the “Plot” board — and I presume some of the heavy lifting (collating relevant posts and debuting drafts of scenes) will occur here as well. And while you’re in the forum, why not visit some of the other boards? We’ve got places to discuss movies, books, and TV, as well as a place to talk about your own work, and other specialized boards. Want to bitch about the look and organization of this site? Go here.

(Remember to register to access the forum!)

So that’s kinda how Spitball! is going to roll: Burley and I will post ideas about the screenplay (and eventually, completed pages), and you can provide feedback in the forums, and we’ll listen to your feedback and fold it into the ideas and pages, and you’ll provide more feedback, and so on and so on, and maybe, eventually, we’ll have a completed screenplay at the end of the tunnel.

A screenplay that anyone is welcome to use.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Monday
Jan 09, 2006

Are we Open Source? posted by Martin

This is to clarify—or at least talk about—the idea that we are open source. Are we?

The open source movement started in an effort to develop free software, at a time when commercial software, with proprietary code, was becoming commonplace. The commonly heard refrain is that the software should be free-as-in-speech, not free-as-in-free-beer. That is, the code itself should always be open, even if the software is commercial in nature.

An impressive infrastructure has been grown to promote, grow and release free software. The concept is usually that somebody gets an idea, does some coding and then puts the code into a repository where others can download it and work on it, if they’re interested. Those other coders can submit their code back to the originators, and if the originators like the work done by the submitters, they’ll commit it to the code base.

I’ve often thought that writers could learn a lot about organization from software developers—especially using version control, but that said, we’re not really open source. We’re not writing a screenplay for you to work on and contribute scenes to, which will get added if we like them.

Most free software is released under a number of licenses (GNU, Berkely, etc) with the intention that the creators are retaining the copyright to the works, but that you are free to take that work and modify it for your needs, or to modify it and submit it back to the community.

So, how are we different?

We’re releasing our work into the Public Domain. That means that NOBODY owns it. At all. Zip. You don’t even have to credit us if you take it and use it.

Why? Why do this instead of license it open source, with a more restrictive license? Simple: screenplays are potentially worth a lot of money. If we just went with an open source model, you wouldn’t get the benefit of “using” (i.e. selling) the screenplay if it was really fantastic. This is unlike a coder who adds to an open source project, and gets to use the software she helped write. Unless we had an infrastructure in place of filmmakers ready to produce open-source projects, the incentive for the contributer is low. Besides, would you ever shake the feeling that you’re just helping these two guys on a website with a funny name? Wouldn’t you be suspicious that your good work might be the thing that made the deal for these two guys? Heck, what if it was the bit that really made the screenplay amazing. And then we sold it. And you got nothing.

Instead, we’re stripping away the financial incentive for us, and for you, but making the work public domain. This means it belongs to everybody (at least in the U.S., I’m not sure about other countries—and actually, here’s a disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer, etc, etc), so essentially nobody can sell it. Or, everybody can sell it. Maybe you can sell it. You can take the final work that you hated, and insert your bits of magic and then sell that. You can re-incorporate our dialogue or plot points into your work, just like artists and painters have done for the thousands of years, without worrying about us suing you.

In a best case scenario, we have people who are interested and writing, uploading bits and pieces to add to a screenplay that we started, but that everybody refines and owns. We’ll control our version of the “trunk” (as the main software development line is called), and you can control any “branch” you want. We sincerely hope that you’ll be interested in the community aspect, and hang out on our forums to talk about these things.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Thursday
Jan 05, 2006

Contemplating the contemplation posted by Martin

Mr. Shockah and I have more ideas than time to flesh them out. That’s just the nature of writing—the fullest screenplays start with a singular query—something that captures your attention. For me, it’s usually a question—in this case, what would a prison planet be like?

Now that we have to answer that question—have to, mind you—I’m trying to think about it from a different angle. Could you tell a love story on a Prison Planet (a: yes). Could you tell a comedy on a Prison Planet (a: yes). Could you make an action-adventure / horror / gory mess on a prison planet (a: yes). Political movie, chick flick—it could be all be done there—the setting suggests a plot, but doesn’t have to be the plot. Of course, if it’s not important to what happens, then there is no sense but pure whimsy to put the thing on the damn planet to begin with, so the plot will have to revolve somehow with the fact that the setting is a prison planet.

But, that caveat aside, we could really do anything we want. So, where do we start? Maybe we start with a character. Maybe that character is a prisoner just being sent to the planet. So, if that is indeed where we’re going to start (I’ll wait for Mr. Shockah to opine before I start spinning too far), then a bunch of questions pop up. Why is he there? What did she do? How did he get there? How is she put on the planet’s surface? Where on the planet is he put down? Are their guards on the planet surface? Are their guards in space? Do they monitor technology on the surface? What is the weather on the planet?

Suddenly, these questions start getting answered and a hazy picture starts being drawn:

A woman was convicted of murdering her violent husband is sentenced to the Prison Planet. She arrives there after being beamed on a stream of light. There is a heavily guarded landing station that the prisoners are always trying to assault, but as of yet they have not been successful. The skies are continually stormy with orange clouds as she is pushed out into the station by cruel guards into a crowd of very hungry looking men… or

A man convicted of treason—he was the president of his planet—is sent away after a coup. He is put on the ground by a lifter space craft that drops him with supplies in the middle of a desert. There are no guards. there is no one around. He has limited food and water… or

A woman is brought before a court in the largest city of the prison planet. They read the charges from her captors and assign her a task on the planet surface. The ore mines are popular with many people, but she has experience with high culture. She’ll be a domestic to one of the highest ranking judges, just doing his time until he can be rotated off the prison planet…

So, none of those kill me, but I could spend all night writing little synopsis. Somewhere in there we’ll find the hook that starts getting us more jazzed. What say you Mr. Shockah? Where would you like to start this discussion?

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Wednesday
Jan 04, 2006

Just What The Hell Do We Think We're Doing? (And How Do You Fit In?) posted by kza

Good question. I’m not entirely sure, either.

Again, the Big Idea, as Burley posted below in “Statement of Purpose” is to write a screenplay completely through this newfangled medium called the InterWeb. Every idea, every outline, every piece of communication between the Mic Rockah and B-to-the-G, will be posted here.

(This will be slightly harder than it seems, since we’ve been known to talk on the phone and hang out every once in a while. I believe we decided that if — horrorz! — we should accidentally talk about the screenplay in a non-Spitball!-approved medium, we’ll post the contents of said dialogue here. That should be interesting.)

So far, so good. But what about you, Dear Reader? It would be fine and dandy if this site was just a collection tank for our Bob Loblaw, but would anyone care? If we built a screenplay on the Web and no one read it, would it exist?

(OT: If a bear shits in the woods, does Timothy Treadwell videotape it? A: Yes.)

In other words, as interesting as this project is to us personally, it would be more interesting to us if it was interesting to you. So towards that, we’ve decided to allow you, yes you, that guy in North Carolina, to contribute to the screenplay. And by contribute, we mean anything you want: ideas, characters, dialogue, whole freakin’ scenes, if you wish. It should also go without saying that we crave feedback — what works and what doesn’t — on all levels of the screenplay’s construction, and I was taught that the best way to criticize a piece of art is with another piece of art.

But here’s the catch: This is not, repeat not, a screenplay-by-committee thang. Ultimately, we, the two dudes with the funny names, decide what the screenplay is, and what goes in it and what doesn’t. And our names (probably not the funny ones) go on the cover page.

But waitafrickin’minute, you say. Why the hell should I bother contributing to your shitty-ass screenplay? What’s in it for me, the guy from North Carolina?

Another good point. Normally, absolutely nothing.

Except.

We’ve decided to make this screenplay, as the computer geeks call it, “open source”. What this means — as I understand it — is that the screenplay is public domain. Grymz has the full low-down on that; but the long and short of it is that everyone owns the screenplay. (And thus, no one does. Note to self: The Incredibles’ Syndrome as open source advocate. Must think on.)

So whatever you write for this project, you can use in whatever way you want. You can also use anything we write for this project. You can use the whole damn screenplay if you want. I think there are issues about giving credit, but otherwise, it’s all fair game. Think our first thirty pages are super-keen, but the rest sucks? Take it and write your own second and third act. Like one of the characters but find the rest to be toilet paper? Do it to it, man. As the Wu-Tang Clan once opined, it’s yourz.

Will any of this work? (And what exactly does “work” mean in this context?) I dunno. But if there wasn’t a chance of failure, it wouldn’t be an experiment. One day, Burley and I hope to be working at this professionally, clockin’ lots of dollars. And when that day comes, a funny little idea like this won’t be possible for us to execute — Disney or Paramount or Mark Cuban or whoever the hell would certainly frown on it. But we aint there yet, so while we’re still young, we’re going to do something that hasn’t been done before.

And if you want to join us, all the sweeter.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Tuesday
Jan 03, 2006

Contemplating the Engine posted by Martin

What does a prison planet look like? Does a culture that has a prison planet pick a planet bereft of resources? What if the Prison Planet is old—centuries old? Does it become a viable culture and government (hello Australia!)?

What kind of prisoners does this culture send there? What kind of crime is so subversive that you must abandon the people that commit them? Rape? Murder? Sexual Offenses? If so, what level of offense? What if the government could legally, and culturally acceptably, get rid of their political opponents, would they do so?

How does the culture get their prisoners there? Prison planets could only exist in a culture that has very inexpensive space travel. Does that mean that there are aliens there? How does the alien government feel about this culture banishing their citizens?

The cliche of Prison Planet seems to be the Mad Max landscape—post-apocalyptic—but Prison Planet isn’t post-anything, it’s pre-something. Also, it seems to me that it wouldn’t resemble prison movies or shows that we have seen—the engine of those being the following recipe: 1. Take violent and unpredictable men, 2. Put them in an incredibly confined space.

But on the Prison Planet, can’t the prisoners spread out anywhere they want to? If so, would they start trade networks? What kind of commerce would arise?

If a group of prisoners—let’s say women—controlled a resource, could they take control of the planet? What would a prisoner-run matriarchy look like?

These are the kinds of questions running around my head, when I think of Prison Planet. I want to know what the engine is before I can see characters existing on it, not to mention that the engine might dictate the plot itself. Grand struggle, or personal struggle? Well, always the latter—of course—but in the context of what?

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Sunday
Jan 01, 2006

Statement of Purpose posted by Martin

To listen to the stereotype, all that one needs to break into the exciting and lucrative world of Hollywood screenwriting is an idea. After all, you’ll only get that one chance to wheedle up to some cigar-puffing exec and say in your midwestern white-boy (Screenwriting is still tragically overrun by white guys. Like us.) voice-just-breaking drawl “It’s a sci-fi story about time travel starring Martin Luther transported to the American Revolution—he pins the Declaration of Independence on Hitler’s ass!” Or, maybe you’ll squeal through the studio gates in your 1970s beat-to-shit Range Rover, with a day pass won by seducing a secretary with your manly Testeszterhaus swagger. You’ll slap the big guy on the back—already looking ahead to that weekend in Acapulco with him and some hookers—and say “Rejected teenage fat chick turns into Femme Fatale and seeks revenge by detonating a nuclear suitcase bomb at her class reunion. Only, she didn’t know that little Jimmy Parson, who was always nice to her ungrateful ass, grew up to be the fucking head of the F.B.I. Bamm! Bitch gets what’s coming—but not without three acts and lots of tits.” Rube and Joe here get contracts, big pads in the Hollywood Hills, and more blow than they can snort.

We believe those stereotypes are categorical bullshit. Movies might begin as a pitch, or a logline or an idea, but movies really start as a script. The writing is what separates the stereotypes from the writers who might have a chance. The true value of success in Hollywood will not be won by clever ideas, but good writing, character development, and emotional resolution to problems that audience members actually care about.

To think that ideas are the engine of movies is to devalue the incredibly talented screenwriters that have come before. It’s a medium every bit as difficult as novel writing, with smart and dedicated competition—probably younger and better dressed than you—all wanting to grab some golden ring. Luckily media is expanding daily, and the one thing that media needs if it wants to make a splash with the public is a story. Nothing is exempt.

So we’ve decided to perform an experiment in public here—this is screenwriting without a net. We are going to conceive, develop and write a screenplay completely on this blog. Every conversation we have about it will be broadcast here. Every word we write—in preparation or actual drafting, will be published here. Even more, we are publishing this work into the public domain. If you don’t like what we’re doing, take the damn thing and write it yourself. Re-write it—post comments that tell us what we’re doing wrong.

There are no restrictions on your use of the material, although we certainly hope that you’ll turn around and put your variations back into the public domain. Even better, we hope you’ll post in our forums and tell people what you’ve done, and how to get it.

We’re hoping that people just starting to write can learn something here. We’re hoping that more experienced writers will pipe in and tell us what we’re doing wrong. Maybe things will go well. Maybe they’ll descend into chaos. Maybe it will be a mistake.

But if it ends up being a mistake, it will be a mistake in execution. No one succeeded without putting themselves on the line a bit and trying something public. Or, as Beckett so eloquently put it: No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Sunday
Jan 01, 2006

In the beginning were two words posted by Martin

Kent and I have had a lot of conversations about the project that you’re looking at here. We’ve talked about the forums and the blog, what each post needs, what each post doesn’t need, should we have a blogroll or not, and a myriad of other subjects under the sun.

There’s one topic we have not broached at all, save for two words. That’s about the screenplay we’re going to write here. After all, the idea is that every conversation we have; every attempt at outlining, writing and arguing about what parts should be in and what should be kept out—all of those conversations are going to take place here on the blog. In public. With you watching and commenting, hopefully.

But Kent and I are full of it. Ideas. We’re full of ideas, so in order to give a bit of focus to an otherwise potentially out of control project, we picked an idea from our archive that we wanted to develop here. Of course, in our archive, the project is still only two words long. We’ve never really spent any time on it, other than to speak the two words, laugh and say “that’d be awesome to work on.”

Okay, enough teasing. Those two words—the words that will start us on the journey into the deepest jungle of screenwriting—the words that will launch this ship into the treacherous seas of public humiliation. Those two words are:

Prison Planet.

I mean, come ON! How much better can you get? As a sub-sub-sub genre, I have a loving affinity for Prison Planet movies, the most famous of which is probably Alien Prison Planet, but also due mention are Escape from Prison Planet New York, and Escape from Prison Planet Los Angeles. And even though there is a movie with the moniker Prison Planet, we still feel that the genre is under mined. The definitive prison planet movie has yet to be written. And, rest assured, ours will be outside the general cliches of the genre.

Which is not to say that our writing talent is so large as to avoid them, but is to say that although I love the Prison Planet, I’m not so down with spending a big chunk of my life writing a sweaty-muscle-men-bash-it-out sort of movie, which the genre seems to naturally suggest. But, that’s a topic for another post. Or, rather, a conversation another post will start. For now, dear friends, we will leave those two words hanging in the air. Two words that may evoke deep feelings in some of you. At the end of it all, we hope to take you to: The Prison Planet.

Comments (0) — Category: the screenplay

Sunday
Jan 01, 2006

Bio - Kent M. Beeson posted by kza

Kent M. Beeson (aka Urban Shockah the Mic Rocka) Urban ShockerHow many aliases does a non-rhyming white boy from Modesto need? According to Kent M. Beeson (a.k.a. Urban Shockah, a.k.a. Kza), a minimum of two. Kent graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Theater Arts, and then proceeded to walk away from theater forever for the “life” of a cinephile. He spends most of his time locked away in his apartment with his wife and cat, looking out the window and idly wondering if that Flexcar that was in the church parking lot across the street is ever coming back. His credits include writing the short film The Somnambulist (2004, Mary Agnes Krell), Saint Callistus (2002, 2nd place, The Underexposed Screenwriting Contest) and Yellow (Project Greenlight Top 100, 2003) and appearing in Kent Beeson is a Classic and an Absolutely New Thing (2001, Tim Etchells) and Untitled Ty Huffer Project a.k.a. Douglas (2005, Ty Huffer). You can sometimes catch him writing film reviews over at his other blog, he loved him some movies.

Comments (0) — Category: About

Sunday
Jan 01, 2006

Bio - Martin McClellan posted by Martin

Martin McClellan (aka Burley Grymz) Urban Shocker Martin was born on April 1st, and takes his birthright as a fool very seriously. He�s a graphic designer living in Seattle, with a BFA in graphic design from Cornish College of the Arts. He studied writing at Seattle Central Community College, where he was co-editor of the Ark, the school�s yearly literary magazine, and holds a certificate in creative fiction writing from the University of Washington extension.

His screenwriting credits include the short Lost in Time (1999), YELLOW (Project Greenlight top 100, 2003), and the soon to be filmed sci-fi short Q-DASH-1. He journals about movies at http://www.hellbox.org/movies, and about lots of other things at http://www.hellbox.org/.

Comments (0) — Category: About

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What is Spitball!?

Spitball! is two guys collaborating to write about writing and collaboration. We're writing partners who have worked together since 2000, and placed in the top 100 in the last Project Greenlight for our script YELLOW.

Currently, we are both working on multiple screenplay, short story, and novel ideas independently and together, and collaborate on this blog.

What Spitball! used to be

Spitball! started as an attempt to collaborate on a screenplay online in real time. From January 2006 to July 2007 we worked on an interactive process to decide the story we were going to make. A full postmortem is coming, but you can find the find all the posts by looking in the category Original Version.

During this period, we affected the personalities of two of the most famous spitball pitchers from the early 20th Century. Look at our brief bios for more info about this, and so as not to be confused as to who is talking when.

We rebooted the franchise in early 2009 in its current form.


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Our Twitter account, where we note when longer articles are posted. While we're at it, here's Kent and Martin's Twitter accounts.

Kent M. Beeson

Urban Shockah pic

Kent M. Beeson (aka Urban Shockah) is a stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home writer, living in Seattle, WA with his wife, 2 year old daughter and an insane cat. In 2007, he was a contributor to the film blog ScreenGrab, where he presciently suggested Jackie Earle Haley to play Rorschach in the Watchmen movie, and in 2008, he wrote a film column for the comic-book site ComiXology called The Watchman. (He's a big fan of the book, if you couldn't tell.) In 2009, he gave up the thrill of freelance writing to focus on screenplays and novels, although he sometimes posts to his blog This Can't End Well, which a continuation of his first blog, he loved him some movies. He's a Pisces, and his favorite movie of all time is Jaws. Coincidence? I think not.

Martin McClellan

Burleigh Grimes pic

Martin (aka Burley Grymz) is a designer and writer. He occasionally blogs at his beloved Hellbox, and keeps a longer ostensibly more interesting bio over here at his eponymous website. You can also find him on Twitter.