Friday, April 30, 2010

A Twitch and a Spit

I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox the other night on DVD. Based on a children's book by Roald Dahl, the movie was nominated in two categories at this year's Oscars--Original Score and Animated Feature Film. Alas, it lost to the movie Up on both counts.

Here's a brief synopsis: The stylish Mr. Fox has retired from chicken thievery and is now a journalist and family man. Bored with his staid life, however, he decides to make a brief return to crime that will put him at odds with local farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean.

I enjoyed the film once I got past the "normalness" of the characters. You'd think after watching the Nickelodeon channel with my grandchildren, I'd be used to seeing animals dressed in clothes and living human lives.

The one takeaway I received from this movie from a craft standpoint came from the title character's son, Ash. Poor little guy couldn't get any respect, not from his family or friends. A smallish fox, Ash tries to compete with the larger boys in his class, only to be shot down for his efforts. And when Dad decides to go back into the chicken stealing business, Ash's golden-child cousin gets to go along, but Ash is told he will only ruin the outing.

What I liked about this character was the body tags he used to show his displeasure. When he was told he couldn't do something, his ear would twitch, ever so slightly, and then he'd spit. This became a vehicle throughout the movie that I began to look forward to. The director of the film knew how to use it, because it got to where there would be a slight pause so that in my mind I'd be saying, "Wait for it..." and then the ear would twitch, Ash would spit, and I was delighted that I knew it was going to happen.

This is an excellent way to characterize. It works especially well for secondary characters who don't get as much on-air time as the main characters. But, as in everything, it must be done with a light touch. In Writer Land we often use the example of seasoning. Too much salt will spoil the menu, but just the right seasoning, and voila! Culinary delight.

Ash's role in Fantastic Mr. Fox provided just the right seasoning. Watch it for yourself to learn how to create body tags for your characters.

For a full list of nominees and winners at this year's Oscar ceremony, go to

Here is a link to some fun trivia on the movie from IMDb.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Summer movies: Comics, Classics, Cartoons...and Face

I missed Friday's post because I was on a mountain retreating. ACFW Colorado hosted the annual get-away where we all refocused our lives and our writing to point to our Lord Jesus Christ. It was deep. It was fun. It was exhausting.

As a bonus gift for missing my post, I want to point you to this link at the ReelzChannel. It lists the summer movies coming out this year. I'm particularly excited about these:

  • May 7 - Iron Man 2 (Thoroughly enjoyed the first one. Even bought the DVD!)
  • May 14 - Robin Hood (Not hugely big on Russel Crowe, but interested to see what they do with the story.)
  • May 21 - Shrek Forever After (I think it's the whole retelling the fairy tale thing for me.)
  • June 11 - A-Team (But they'd better have someone pretty enough to be named Face!)
  • June 13 - Toy Story 3 (You have to un-American not to be anticipating this one.)
  • June 25 - The Green Hornet (Okay, I'm more excited for my hubby. I was never a fan.)
  • July 9 - Despicable Me (More curious than excited.)
See you all at the movies!

Friday, April 16, 2010

What's In A Name?

If you're a writer, and you haven't yet experienced the ABC hit Castle, I urge you to get online and view the past episodes.

This is Wikipedia's synopsis of the series:
Castle follows Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, a famous mystery novelist who has killed off his main character in his book series and has writer's block. Castle is called in to help the NYPD solve a copy-cat murder based on one of his novels. Stana Katic stars opposite as the young determined detective Kate Beckett. Castle, who becomes interested in Beckett as a potential character for a new book series, uses his contacts and receives permission to continue accompany Beckett while investigating cases. Castle decides to use Beckett as the model for the main character of his next book series, starring "Nikki Heat". Beckett, an avid reader of Castle's books, is initially disapproving of having Castle shadow her on her cases, but later warms up and recognizes Castle as a useful resource in solving crimes. While technically a drama series, Castle also features comedy and romantic tension.

Yes. It's a show about a writer written by, well, writers. Every week they sneak in tidbits that writers can relate to, such as this gem from an episode titled "The Double Down":
Beckett: [reads what is written on a therapist's dead body] "Your out of time"?
Lanie Parish (coroner): Looks like a patient lost their patience.
Castle: Also his command of grammar. "Your" should be You-apostrophe-R-E as in "you are." That's not even a tough one, not like when to use "who" or "whom."
Beckett: You really think that's the take-away here, Castle?
Castle: I'm just saying - whoever killed her also murdered the English language.

In this week's episode, "The Late Shaft", Beckett wants to bring in a man for questioning. When she tells Castle his name, Zach Robinson, Castle says, "Good villain name! Sneaky Z, hard k-sound." This dialogue goes by so fast, my husband missed it. When I laughed, he made me rewind the DVR so he could catch it. I'm tuned in to these little writeresque moments. My electronics technician hubby is not.

This got me thinking about names. I've heard that my character's name should reflect The above exchange is a perfect example. Keeping with the villain theme, I started wondering about famous villains in movies. How many of them had audibly harsh names? No offense to the Zachs of this world, or any of the names represented in the following list of villains:
  • Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) - The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
  • Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  • Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) - The Godfarther Part II (1974)
  • Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) - Misery (1990)
  • Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) - Cape Fear (1962)
  • Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) - A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
  • Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) - Wall Street (1987) (Kathy's note: The beloved icon Geico Gekko had not yet been created.)
  • Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) - Dracula (1931)
  • Graf Orlok (Max Schreck) - Nosferatu (1922) (Kathy's note: Never saw it, but isn't that a great villain name?)
  • Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) - Mommie Dearest (1981) (Kathy's note: Sorry. Couldn't resist. :-> )
  • Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) - Die Hard (1988)
  • Regina Giddens (Bette Davis) - The Little Foxes (1941)
  • Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) - Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) - Fargo (1996)
  • Gollum (Andy Serkis) - Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King (2003)
  • Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) - The Adventures of Robin Hood - (1938)
  • General Zod (Terrance Stamp) - Superman II (1980)
  • Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) - American Beauty (1999)
  • Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) - Robocop (1987)
  • Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) - A View To A Kill (1985)
Note the hard sounds of G and K. The disquieting pairings of "ctr" as in Lecter, "tch" as in Ratched, and "tz" as in Kurtz. And the ugly way your mouth twists when you say, Graf Orlok, Gaear Grimsrud, Frank Fitts . . . Joan Crawford. :->

This little lesson is making me rethink my own name. Kathy Kovach. All those hard Ks. What must people think of me?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Top Ten Science Fiction Movies -- Featuring Star Wars

In a land far, far away lived a writer who loved movies too much. (Um...that would be me.)

Today we look at Science Fiction films. Here are the top 10 according to the American Film Institute:

Top Ten Sci-Fi:

1 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
7 ALIEN (1979)

Trivia on Star Wars:
  • Peter Mayhew (who played Chewbacca) worked as an orderly in a Yorkshire hospital prior to being cast in the movie. He won his role ten seconds after meetingGeorge Lucas for the first time; all the 7'2" Mayhew had to do was stand up.
  • Stunt doubles were not used for the scene in which Luke and Leia swing to safety. Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill performed that stunt themselves, shooting it in just one take.
  • According to Mark Hamill, studio executives were unhappy that Chewbacca has no clothes and attempted to have the costume redesigned with shorts.
  • Carrie Fisher found the dialogue to be very difficult, later saying, "You can type this stuff, but you can't say it". Harrison Ford had similar trouble (particularly in the scene where the Millenium Falcon leaves Tatooine), and persuaded George Lucas to let him change several lines. (Tip to writers: Read your stuff out loud to see if rings true.)
  • Though the only thing Chewbacca can say from start to finish is a Wookiee growl, he has the last line in the film.
  • The Chewbacca suit retained a bad smell for the duration of filming after the trash-compactor scene.
  • Mark Hamill held his breath for so long during the trash compactor scene that he broke a blood vessel in his face. Subsequent shots are from one side only.
  • George Lucas came up with the name R2-D2 during post-production of American Graffiti (1973). One of the sound crew wanted Lucas to retrieve Reel #2 of the Second Dialogue track. In post-production parlance, this came out as "could you get R2-D2 for me?". Lucas liked the sound of that and noted it down for future use.
  • The first science fiction film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.
  • My first son was born the same year this movie hit the big screen. Yes. I'm that old.

Craft Lesson - The Hero's Journey

Star Wars is often used in writer-land as a model of the Hero's Journey. It follows along the classic arc as clarified by Christopher Vogler in The Writer's Journey and Stuart Voytilla in Myth and the Movies. The teaching is that all good stories have a sort of formula. The character should come full circle from who they once were to who they are now. The journey is what makes up the story. To understand fully how to move a character through a story without making him look like a chess piece, I urge you to check out Voytilla's book. But here's just a taste of how I perceive the hero's arc in Star Wars:
  1. Ordinary World - Luke lives on his uncle's farm
  2. Call to Adventure - Princess Leia shows up as a hologram. This spurs Luke to find Obi Wan Kenobi (her only hope) who tells Luke about his heritage and invites him to come with him to fight the evil Empire ruled by Darth Vader.
  3. Refusal of call - Luke feels inadequate, and besides, his uncle needs him.
  4. Crossing the Threshold - Luke's aunt and uncle are massacred. There's nothing keeping him there now. He joins Obi Wan.
  5. Tests, Allies, and Enemies - Luke learns who to trust and who not to trust as he encounters Storm Troopers and other Empire lackeys. Han Solo and Chewbacca turn out to be valuable allies.
  6. Approach the Inmost Cave - Literally or figuratively, the hero should find himself someplace dark and dangerous. In this case, it's the large trash-compactor in the enemy ship.
  7. The Ordeal - After much Light-Sabering, Luke and his team, along with the rescued princess make it to the Millennium Falcon (Han's ship). But Luke's mentor, Obi Wan, sacrifices himself at the hands of Darth Vader so the others can escape.
  8. Reward - Escape from the enemy ship.
  9. Road Back - The Rebellion (the good guys) rally the troops and Luke joins them as a fighter pilot. They plot to destroy the Death Star.
  10. Resurrection - No longer a country bumpkin, Luke is now wise to the ways of the force, and a hero in the making.
  11. Return with the Elixir - Luke destroys the Death Star.

Enjoy this You Tube tribute to George Lucas. Carrie is hilarious as she describes her experience as Princess Leia.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Top Ten Fantasy Movies -- Featuring The Wizard of Oz

Welcome to Fun Fact Friday! Today we draw from the Top 10 Fantasy Movies to date. I'm sure down the road Avatar will make the list, but I sure hope it doesn't knock Oz of the map.

Top Ten Fantasy Movies

1 WIZARD OF OZ, THE (1939)
4 KING KONG (1933)
5 MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947)
7 HARVEY (1950)
10 BIG (1988)

Trivia on the Wizard of Oz:
  • The horses in Emerald City palace were colored with Jell-O crystals. The relevant scenes had to be shot quickly, before the horses started to lick it off.
  • Judy Garland's portrayal of Dorothy was the main inspiration for the character of Mary Ann on "Gilligan's Island" (1964).
  • In the song "If I Only Had A Heart", the girl who says, "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" is Adriana Caselotti, the voice of Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
  • When The Witch tries to get off the Ruby Slippers, fire strikes her hands. This "fire" was actually dark apple juice spewing out of the shoes. The film was sped up to make it look like fire.
  • When the wardrobe department was looking for a coat for Frank Morgan (Professor Marvel / The Wizard), they decided they wanted one that looked like it had once been elegant but had since "gone to seed". They visited a second-hand store and purchased an entire rack of coats, from which Morgan, the head of the wardrobe department, and director Victor Fleming chose one they felt gave off the perfect appearance of "shabby gentility". One day, while he was on set in the coat, Morgan idly turned out one of the pockets and discovered a label indicating that the coat had been made for L. Frank Baum. Mary Mayer, a unit publicist for the film, contacted the tailor and Baum's widow, who both verified that the coat had at one time been owned by the author of the original "Wizard of Oz" books. After the filming was completed, the coat was presented to Mrs. Baum.
  • I saw Wicked, the Broadway play, recently and enjoyed the story from the Wicked Witch of the West's point of view. Very well done. I also read the book. My commentary: Ick. See the play, skip the book. (By the way, the author of the book, Gregory Maguire, realized that the witch was never given a name. So he made one up: Elfaba, which pays tribute to the original author of the beloved children's books, L. Frank Baum.) I have also viewed the film a hundred-eleventy times. Besides seeing it every year on my own television set growing up, it's my granddaughter's favorite movie. 'Nuf said.
Craft Lesson - Subtle Character Attributes

In the following You Tube offering, Harold Ramis mentions the gifts that the Wizard gave to Dorothy's three companions. How they also apply to Dorothy shows the creative process when developing a character.