Friday, January 28, 2011

More Questions About Media Convergence

I’ve nearly finished writing that novella, Grace Notes, and it’s taking me places I never thought I’d go. I imagined 1000 words a day would be no problem, but it’s 500 or so on a good day. And whenever I reach 500 words I get this enormous desire to clean, like the hormonal nesting zoom I used to experience before giving birth. Exercise, often walking or gardening, always helps me work out what I'll write next, and I planned to paint the verandah as well this summer (haven’t got far with that, because of the wind and the care necessary when cleaning off lead paint). But this cleaning urge is something else. The windows and the pantry and the kitchen cupboards sparkle as never before. I’ve emptied, cleaned and refilled the earthquake water bottles. The hall ceiling is next. I think what I'm doing is somehow related to this Lisa Gornick drawing, but am not sure.

lisa gornick storyboard for work in progress

As I clean, my mind whirls about like a little coloured windmill on a stick. Today, trying to make sense of categories, and what they mean in relation to media convergence, where the boundaries between different categories of media are disappearing. This post, my 100th, is a continuation of my last one.

1. Differences between the ‘novella’ category and the ‘screenplay’ category.

The writing technology still challenges me. I miss Final Draft’s efficient movements between action and dialogue, every single day. I also miss a feeling of relationship to the future film I want the reader to imagine, as their eye runs down the page. When I write, I run the ‘film’ through my mind, and I struggle to communicate solely for the page, and for readers who will watch the story “behind human eyes, not in front of them” (Keri Hulme). I miss lots of white space, and play with ways to create it in a novella, asking myself “Is this a text that will be extended as a graphic novel, or a very long children’s-picture-book-for-adults? Or will I adapt it into a script so it will become a movie? Or will it become an animation?” Who knows? Lots of questions on this trudge. (I’ve been checking out comic books including Kelly Thompson’s great list of her favourite female comics creators of 2010, what they did to get onto her list, and what’s in store for them in 2011, part one and part two.)

2. Differences between writers’ relationships with characters in ‘television’ and ‘film’ and 'novella' categories?

And then I was reading a post on Gemma Gracewood’s blog, Too Much Personality, about a Media 7 interview I’ve been unable to find, where Rachel Lang, a hugely successful writer for television series like Outrageous Fortune, talked about why she prefers writing for television rather than for film. She said, as reported in the post, that it’s all to do with characters, and the way they take on a life of their own in a television series, tell you where they want to go, end up writing you rather than the other way around.

And that twirled my windmill so fast that it blurred. I’ve never written for television, though I can imagine how exciting it must be when characters in a series get to take you on a longer trip. But I don’t think that a television series is the only place where characters end up writing you. In each of the five screenplays I’ve written, the characters have told me where they want to go (and sometimes I haven’t listened well enough). And as the characters in Grace Notes take on lives of their own, I’m struggling to convey what they want. A couple of them sulk a bit as I try to wrench them into paragraphs for a page that may always be just a page of text. They’re fighting over who will die. I can’t believe that the difference Rachel describes is a valid difference between writing for a big or small screen, or for the page, though I’m sure there’s a difference of extent, because of the longer story.

3. Some differences between writing a ‘tele-feature’ and a ‘feature film’?

I’ve written before about the women in New Zealand who write both tele-feature and feature film scripts, crossing over in a way that hasn’t happened before. If women ever write and direct half of all New Zealand’s feature films, I think that these ‘crossover’ women will be the ones to make it happen. Because women writers are so much more strongly represented in television than in film, the crossover women come to feature film writing so skilled and experienced as writers whose scripts have been realised, often many times. My guess is that these women will also create single long-form works for cross-platform entertainment: on television, in cinemas, and online. One of them, Fiona Samuel, also a director, has two features in development with the NZFC. And now, here’s Nights in the Garden of Spain (Nights), which appears to be evidence that television and cinema are already converging.

Nights is Kate McDermott’s adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s coming out novel, with Katie Wolfe as director, and funding from New Zealand On Air, and the third project Katie and Kate have worked on together.

The other day, New Zealand On Screen—the place to go if you want to check out New Zealand film and television information—released an interview with Katie Wolfe. In the interview, Katie says that she and the Nights DOP, Fred Renata, agreed when they were shooting that they’re ‘actually making a film film, but don’t tell anyone’. Katie explains that Nights has a lot of cinematic attributes, and there were even two sound mixes, one for TV and one for cinema. Fascinating. The film version of Nights premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival and the television version was on television the other night (missed it because it was my birthday, alas).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Media Convergence & Desire

I want a great big screen. With all the necessary plug-ins. So I can participate fully and easily in media convergence: search the net, watch movies and web series from downloads and discs, watch television, read and write scripts and stories and emails, chat on Facebook and Twitter, pay my bills, talk and view on Skype, look at, edit and upload photos and clips, play and create games. And all of it from my bed.

One wall in my bedroom is already a kind of screen, a great big window. Total entertainment, day or night. When I lie down, and turn my eyes right, I see the sky, which is always changing, the birds that come and go and sit on the power lines, stars at night, the moon. When I sit up, I see the sea and all the traffic going around and in and out of and over Wellington harbour: container ships, ferries, tugs, cruise ships, yachts and little sailing boats, canoes and rowboats, planes and helicopters. Swimmers sometimes. At night, a beacon. Hutt City’s lights over the other side of the water. Fireworks a few times a year. And when I get out of bed I can see the curve of Oriental Parade, the golden sand, the Norfolk pines, the top of the sea wall, and, on the wide footpath, Wellington’s flaneurs and flaneuses, their families old and young, their pets, their bikes, their skates and skateboards. At night the swoop of street lights and the lights that thread through the Norfolk pines. (Can’t see the road, which I’m glad about.) And, when there’s no roaring wind, there are lots of sounds associated with the view. My favorites are the birds very early and the rowers and their coaches a tiny bit later and ruru—owls—late at night, the voices of people walking on the zigzag outside, the waves breaking on the beach anytime. I love it all.

(The window's in a little wooden house over the road, up on a bit of hillside obscured by the closest Norfolk pine)
But there’s also this space over the fireplace at the end of my bed. It is exactly the right size for my great big screen and in exactly the right place. And this week, I’ve added a reader to my wish-list. I want to read books on white paper on my big screen, books that include links to music and videos. When I read the latest analysis I could find of the readers currently available, not one of them provides exactly what I want, and I couldn’t establish whether and how they might plug into my ideal new screen. But it’s only a matter of time before the perfect reader appears. It could even look like this, giving me the capacity to add to and alter other people's work, not something I want to do, but the idea of a reader that invites collaboration/alteration is nifty, a text version of Photoshop. I imagine that it'll arrive around 2015, or earlier, not 2050.

Thanks, & @nzdodo via @PipAdam

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Creation & Deferment of Hope

David Mamet’s statement that drama is about the creation and deferment of hope really helped me when I started writing scripts. Still helps me. A simple, obvious, idea, I know, but I like the simplicity. A drama ends when a hope is realised, or lost for ever. Or, in a bittersweet ending, there’s a possibility that a hope may be realised in future, or has been transformed in to hope(s) for something entirely different. Thanks to David Mamet, I use the same idea when I analyse news about women who want to write and direct feature films. Does it restore hope that many more of us will see our stories realised onscreen? Does it fuel hope that before too long women will write and direct 50% of all features? Or does it defer hope?

The annual United States awards season, now in full swing, tends to highlight hope’s deferment. This morning, I’m thinking about Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, whose Hævnen (In a Better World, or, translated literally, Revenge), won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film last night. That win may foreshadow similar success in the Academy Awards and enhance her opportunities to make more movies. I've enjoyed Susanne Bier’s films (especially After The Wedding), and feel hopeful that she’ll be on to the next one soon.

Here’s the Hævnen trailer.

But, when I looked at the list of films nominated for the Foreign Language Academy Award, for which Hævnen is the Danish nominee, I immediately thought: Hope Deferred—the figures showed me that gendered problems for women filmmakers are global. Sixty-five countries have nominated films for this award. On Thursday, the Academy will announce the nine-film shortlist and next Tuesday, it will announce the five nominees. Women have written and directed four of the sixty-five: just over 6%. Women writers and directors collaborated with men on five more: 7.5%, for a grand total of 13.5% (list at end of post). Are women still more likely to make their films, and achieve critical and/or commercial success if they collaborate with writers and directors who are men? I noticed too that Hævnen, like After The Wedding and like Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (which a man wrote) is about a man, and Susanne Bier co-wrote the script with a man. Are women more likely to win major awards if their films are about men? This is what Susanne Bier says about her choice

I think I just like real human beings, and their life problems are what make them interesting. In the film, Mikael Persbrandt [shortly to appear in New Zealand to play in The Hobbit] is romantic, idealistic, but he is far from perfect. He is a true human being in all his frailty, with doubts and uncertainties. As a female director, I am driven by these male personalities. Actors often have a strong feminine side, and I like to try to find that in them, like a hollowness, a hidden treasure to bring to the open.

I wonder too, what other political issues underlie countries’ selection of their nominees, and affect the Academy’s selection from the films nominated.