Monthly Archives: June 2013

Man of Steel – Slave to the Story

The latest incarnation of the Superman franchise, Man of Steel, does many things well and some other things poorly. The overall experience, however, is satisfying.

There are **SPOILERS** in this post, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, take the necessary steps.

superman

When facing the blank page, the story tellers (David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan) decided to tell the origin story of Superman by including a battle between two Kryptonians, Kal-El (Superman) and General Zod.

If you decide to take that route then a couple of things have to occur. The battle between two super-human beings must be epic. The scale must, therefore, be large. And the ferocity of the fight must be like something we have never seen before.

And Man of Steel does all of this very well.

The problem? The battle is so large, with bodies, cars and trucks destroying all of the buildings in sight that the collateral damage will invariably include hundreds, if not thousands, of casualties.

The effect? You lose a sense of concern for the inhabitants of Metropolis during the struggle. After watching entire buildings crumble and collapse, seeing a few people huddling behind cars for safety is almost laughable.

The story tellers also do their best to try to get us to identify with an alien that cannot get hurt by our standards. The end result is a mixed bag, where you have sympathy for Superman, but we can’t possibly feel empathy.

Another wasted moment was due to the misplaced revelation, or clarification, of Zod’s motives. Kryptonians are bred for a specific function in society. They are engineered. Kal-El is special because he was born the old fashioned way, which is illegal.

Why is this important?

Zod decides, in order to save his people, he is going to terraform Earth to make it the next Krypton. The down side? Humanity gets destroyed in the process.

Zod

At the end of the story, before Zods ultimate defeat, he tells Kal-El that he was made, genetically, to protect the people of Krypton and that he has no option but to do whatever it takes to do that. Including killing everyone on Earth.

That clarification, that revelation, came too late, in my opinion.

It would have been far more powerful if Zod would have told Kal-El that information when they first met. Because then the epic, explosive battle would not only have been massive, it would have been inevitable.

And that inevitability would have made Kal-El’s sacrifice, being forced to kill the last of his people, even that much more devastating.  He simply would have had no choice.

Finally, by choosing this uber-villain as Superman’s coming out party, I can’t help but wonder; how can any human villain ever come close to being a threat to Superman as was Zod and his army?

How do you top that? How will an average bank robbery, or kidnapping, or nuke, or terrorist event even blink on the radar of consequence when Superman already took out an army of super beings?

When you commit to a story line, there can be some unintended consequences. The creators of Man of Steel may have written themselves into a corner by choosing to tell this new origin story this way.

What do you think they’ll do to give Superman a legitimate challenge in the sequels?  Will it be more spectacle or more personal?

With two sequels already planned, it won’t be long before we find out.

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Fingerprints from God

I believe we are all born with God’s fingerprint on our souls.

Gods-Fingerprint-Small

What do I mean by this? I mean that, I believe God imbues every single one of us with a gift, a talent that is solely ours.

For some it is artistic, such as writing, painting or performing. For others, it is mathematic, such as accounting, geometry or chemistry. For others it is personal interaction, such as being a good listener, a caregiver or a nurturer. The list goes on and on, from athletics to cooking to mentoring to building.

Our genetic make-up, our childhood, our family, our faith and our location help shape these gifts. So, two people can have the same gift, yet express it in completely different ways.

As a parent, I believe our responsibility is two fold:

  • Recognize this gift in your children
  • Foster that gift in a way that they will use it to praise God.

By giving our gift back to God, by using it for his glory, we give it far more value than we would by focusing that gift on ourselves.

Think of all of the artists popular today. Most of them are exceptionally talented, born with a gift. Yet, how many of them use those talents for worldly gains and, in the process, offend God?

And yet, when the eventually leave this world, their gains will remain here and crumble, while their souls will live on forever. Where is up to God’s perfect justice.

I believe God’s fingerprint on my soul is storytelling. I’ve been drawn to it all my life. I have pursued it in film, television and novels. And I try to do it in a way that would make God proud. After all, if God is not smiling at our accomplishments, then how much are they really worth?

What do you believe is God’s fingerprint on your soul? And how do you use it today?

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Capturing the Magic

There is a real feeling of something special, unique and magical happening when a moment of inspiration sparks within you. Rarely can you garner the same creative sensation one feels when you create something out of nothing, when you turn a blank page into an outline, a storyboard, a script page or a chapter of a novel.

When you create a character, it comes alive. It evolves and grows and has its own voice.

When you create an obstacle for your character to overcome, you feel anxiety as you live the challenge facing your character.

When you create the world of the story, it’s almost as if you get an insight into what God must feel when experiencing his creation here on Earth. When forming the world of the story you know its sounds, its smells, its ebbs and flows, its weaknesses and strengths and it’s moral compass.

The spark of inspiration can feel like a gift, a divine peek into God’s joy of creation.

It is a rare and wonderful thing.

Capturing that moment of inspiration, that flood of creative juice, is critical. If you are not careful, like a wisp of smoke it will quickly dissipate into the air.

Here are two suggestions to capture the magic of inspiration for long term use.

1) use an audio recorder. I started using a digital audio recorder for the first time while fleshing out the story arcs for our trilogy of feature films. We would record the entire brainstorming session, the ideas that worked and the ideas that tanked. Afterward we would transcribe the session, word for word.

I was amazed at how much information, character detail and story substance was documented using this method. In the past, only the broad stroke ideas, the big picture inspirations would have been retained. But, using this dictation method, ever nuance was captured and spurred more creative ideas.

2) always write down inspiration, even if it doesn’t belong in the story you’re writing. This is not something that I have done, yet, but is an intriguing idea about which I had recently heard.

The concept is simple enough… inspiration should not be wasted. When writing, write every inspired moment that occurs to you. You can choose later, in the rewriting process, to either cut it or save it for another story. But, don’t waste it. It is too rare and precious to ignore. Document it even if it doesn’t fit within the limited confines of the story on which you are currently working. Whenever inspiration hits, let it come out in its full glory. Then you’ll have the option of where and when to use it.

Inspiration is the drug that keeps writers addicted to the process. It’s the infusion of “creative crack” that keeps us coming back to the long, arduous and often difficult process of writing.

Inspiration is the magic in the wand of storytelling.

It is a wonderful gift that is rarely matched in any other experience.

My Greatest Creative Asset

My daughter, Dorothea, is my greatest creative asset.

She has been by my side in the creative process since she was a young adult.  She’s always been a heavy reader and a lover of movies.  For example, when she was nine years old we watched Hitchcock’s The Birds.  As soon as the movie was done, she turned to me and said, “Okay, let’s watch it again, except this time tell me what the director was trying to do.”  She’s always loved movies and she’s always loved novels, having devoured classics and modern tales alike.

As I’ve taught her the structure of screenplays, she has been my co-creator in many story lines, including the Gabby Wells trilogy.  I come up with the idea and the broad strokes and she helps fill in the important, gritty details.

DC-Pete-Martyrs-Paradigm

In 2008, Dorothea helping flesh out a screenplay called Martyrs

Where my strength is plot, hers is character.  I’ll go over the story I have in mind and she’ll offer character reactions, choices and directions that will either augment or alter the direction of the original story.  She’ll mull and think and ponder the characters within the story and come up with extensive analysis.  Since we originally created the Gabby Wells character five years ago, she has spent more time thinking about that role than I have.

I jokingly say to her, “I created Gabby Wells, but you know her better than anyone.”

Over the years our process has become more streamlined.  I no longer have to teach her what we’re trying to accomplish while trying to accomplish it.  We’ve been doing it so long we quickly move through the steps needed to outline a story.

For example, a few days ago we sat on our front porch and, within about an hour, sketched out the third Gabby Wells book.  It’s great stuff, if I don’t say so myself.  Powerful, spiritual and exciting. It was the easiest outline we had ever drafted.  I hope our collaboration continues so effortlessly in the future.

Pete & DC hashing out new GW novel

In 2013, me and Dorothea sketching out the third Gabby Wells novel

She’s a very gifted writer in her own right.  Much better than I am, actually.  I have no doubt that if she ever decides to write a novels or screenplays, she will be a force to be reckoned with.  Maybe then, she’ll let me be her greatest creative asset and I can help her try to achieve her dreams as she has helped me try and achieve mine.

Gabby Wells – Writing Backwards

Most of the time, television series or movies are based on novels.  With Gabby Wells, it was the other way around.

In 2008, we started a film company called Sonlight Pictures.  As we formulated our business plan, we wanted to create a movie trilogy for the young adult audience about a teen sleuth struggling with the high demands of her faith.  Thus, Gabby Wells was created.

We wrote the first script of the trilogy and outlined the remaining two stories.  Shortly thereafter we started film production on some short projects, including a web series called Nikki & Babs: Dos and Doubts.  After successfully acquiring distribution for the series we focused on our next project.

Our experiences with the web series turned our focus to a half-hour television drama.  When we considered all of the ideas on the table, we were drawn back to Gabby Wells.  We loved her and her characters and thought it would be fun to explore their relationships and stories before the storyline of the movie trilogy started.

So, we drafted a couple of seasons of the television series.  As we worked toward putting the pieces together for such a production, which is a massive undertaking, it occurred to us that Gabby Wells stories would make good novels.  Those stories could exist both in conjunction with and separate from the series and trilogy story lines.

Therein lies the creation of the Gabby Wells novel series.  I had written screenplays for decades, but never a novel.  After a lot of trial and error and a ton of rewrites, I was able to finish the first two books.

We hope, God willing, that the first novel titled Water & Blood wil be published by the end of the year.

The second novel, Shadows & Lies, is written, but still numerous rewrites away from being ready for publication.

And the third book, as of yet untitled, was outlined today and I am exceptionally excited about the plot and character arcs.

How many books will complete Gabby Wells’ faith journey?  I’m not sure.  Somewhere between four and six.

When I look back on the journey that lead me here, writing these novels, I can’t help but laugh. God sure has a funny sense of humor.  Only he would think that turning a movie trilogy into a television show that would inspire a series of novels is the right way to go.

I may have gotten here by doing things backwards, but I couldn’t be more excited about both where the journey has taken me and where it appears to be leading.  If going backwards is the right direction, then I can’t imagine what’s coming next.