The Power of Story

January 12th, 2011

Life can serve up a vicious suckerpunch. We’ve all had those days. Some of us have had those years. The world feels like it’s become a cruel joke.

Those are the days I often find myself wondering what I offer as a writer. Why stories? Why not medicine or human rights or law? It’s an inevitable question in a world that celebrates facts and prefers quantitative results.

My conclusion: our lives are stories. Every day, we get up, wield our invisible sword against the forces that would slay us, and shine our own light. We are the hero/ines of our own existence.

The stories we read, watch, share are fuel for our fire. We see ourselves in the valor of Robin Hood, the intelligence of Sherlock Holmes, the courage of Harry Potter. We embrace the possibilities.

Stories heal our hearts. They spark our desires. They remind us of the tremendous potential of humanity.

Most of all, they remind us that – at any moment – we can choose a new path. We are the authors of our own story.

Sexing Up Mythology

November 17th, 2010

Mythology has always been rich in sex, blood, and feuds. Talk about fertile ground for a storyteller. But the folks at Showcase have added humour, leather, and a touch of the superhero genre to their show, Lost Girl. Making it virtually irresistible.

As a fey (magical being) raised by humans, Bo knows nothing of her history. She guides us through the fey universe – including light and dark sides – with her own journey. We learn as she learns. A classic and engaging storytelling technique. Especially effective in a world filled with mythical creatures and unique talents.

So if all those myths in your brain haven’t been accessed since grade school? Each episode provides a refresher of a particular mythological being (or two). Banshees, furies, succubi. Just a few of the colourful critters offered up for us to follow each week as someone mysteriously dies or needs Bo’s help.

While the world is engaging and the mythological detail is manageable, what really works is how real the characters are. They’re quirky and grouchy and fragile and brave. Like any of us in a given week. It’s easy to understand and relate to this strange world. Because, just like in the great myths, the characters have very human motivations. Which is why we love TV.

And the leather and crossbows don’t hurt, either.

Rev Up Your Research

October 28th, 2010

Research. The word can send chills through a writer’s heart. Whether it’s flashbacks to university or a fear of getting lost in the labyrinth of facts. Research can stop a story before it’s even started.

The longer you write, however, the more likely you’ll want to stretch your reach. You may set a story in a country you’ve never visited. Or become possessed by a character that does crazy and possibly illegal things. And you will have to do some straight-up, hour-crunching research to get the facts right.

BUT. I believe there’s a lot of fun to be had in research. Let’s rip a page from the actor’s handbook. Think of what they do to prep for a role. It doesn’t matter how crazy, how far-fetched. You get to justify it with one word – research!

Need examples? Here are a few things I’ve done in the name of research:

1. Fire guns at a range: I am developing a TV show about a hitman. Guns are a crucial part of the story and my character’s world. More than that, I was inspired by the challenge. I’d never even held a gun. Let alone loaded one. I learned more about guns in two hours than decades of movie watching. And I got to fire a rifle with full scope. Pretty damn cool.

2. Get a psychic/Tarot reading: I love the urban fantasy genre. And I’m particularly fascinated by anything that doesn’t have an easy explanation. Read all you want, there is nothing like sitting in the someone’s living room and having them lay out a Tarot Card spread. It’s a vivid experience. You get to see, feel, smell the possibilities of your scenes by stepping outside the bubble of your own world.

3. Take an autopsy class:  Imagine sharing that story at the water cooler! I did this research with my writers group. Not only did we learn a ton, we had a terrific time telling inappropriate jokes. Where else could you have that kind of macabre fun? To answer the obvious, we didn’t see/cut a real corpse. But we were given the full tour and asked all the crazy questions our hearts’ desired.

Hurray for Easy A

October 15th, 2010

Wit is dead. That was my assumption about comedy flicks until I went to the theatre last weekend. It had been so long since I’d seen a sharp, intelligent, heart-felt comedy, I’d pretty much given up hope and relied on British movies and cable television for my fix.

I get that we’re in the era of YouTube. And I love a good, fall-on-your-ass gag as much as the next girl. Heck. I watch Wipeout every week just to see people land face down in the mud. But we’ve had so many slapstick comedy movies over the past five years, I feel like I’ve binged on Halloween candy. The whole reason we love candy is because it’s not a meal. It’s decadent and a rush. An occasional treat.

When Easy A kept me entertained, engaged, laughing, and just plain respected in the theatre. Damn, I was happy! I soared out of the theatre like a teenager in love. THAT’s what a comedy should do.

So, what did Easy A do right?

1. Gave us a smart heroine. From the first frame, we connect with her, we like her, and we know she’s smart. She’s different enough to be original, but still wants all the same things we want(ed) in high school. Basically, she’s the person we imagine/wish we were.

2. Admitted the inspiration right away. By the first few scenes of the movie, we know that this is loosely inspired by The Scarlet Letter. You know it. I know it. And the characters in the movie know it. Then, in good comedy fashion, they have fun with it.

3. Respected the age group. So many films make teenagehood look fun or stupid. Who are we kidding? High school is war. Every day is a battle and no one gets out unscathed. Easy A doesn’t back away from the clichés (which we’ve all lived) but treats them with compassion and wit.

4. Cast top-notch actors as the adults. The parents and teachers got as much cred in this film as the teenagers. They are funny, clever, and kind. Are they an idealized version of the parents/ teachers we wish we’d had? Absolutely. But I was happy to engage in the fantasy. Especially the one with Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as the wittiest parents on the planet. Sign me up.

5. Acknowledged the real inspiration. Easy A is an homage to John Hughes. From Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to The Breakfast Club to Pretty in Pink, this was the best possible love letter to Hughes. And instead of trying to hide it? They offer it up on a genuine, character-related platter. Et voilà. The audience is let in on the true heart of the film. Masterful.

Easy A respected the teenage comedy genre just like John Hughes did. And that is high praise indeed.

Renovation Fever

April 14th, 2010

The past year of my life is a blur. I gave it (semi-willingly) to my home renovation. A project that we thought was going to take four months, actually took twelve. The end result is gorgeous (thank the gods) but talk about a full-on experience of having my life turned upside down, shaken up, then spun around a thousand times.

 A similar effect is happening in the Canadian TV industry at the moment. The previous television fund (CTF) has been replaced with a new fund — the Canadian Media Fund (CMF). Basically, the Canadian financing structure has officially embraced new media as a critical aspect of the evolution of television.

After going to a CMF information session, I estimate that this fund renovation is only at the stage of receiving the construction permits. We’ve done the demolition of the old house and we’ve got the design drawings for the new house, but just how will this project pan out? That’s going to be a long, drawn out, and possibly painful process.

Now. It’s likely that this renovation will turn into a work of beauty, just like my home did. And hopefully, there will be a lot more room for our collective artistic family. As far as I can see, however, the contractor has great intentions, but he’s only ever done traditional, Victorian homes and this is a modern, eco-renovation.

As someone who has created a lot of digital and communications strategies, I’m particularly concerned with how the folks creating the digital content are going to make a living. Producers know they need to provide dynamic web/media content … but how much money will go to the creator?

I am beyond excited at the possibilities for the transmedia space, but a grrl needs to make a living. And a decent one at that.

Life Imitating Art

June 17th, 2009

Sometimes life serves up coincidences that you just can’t ignore.

Four years ago, I conceived a screenplay set in Iran. A story in which protests by the Iranian people evolve into full-blown revolution. With the government cracking down on communication outlets, an American reporter and an Iranian woman work together to get the word out through underground tech channels.

So as I followed the recent presidential election and the fallout of the alleged election fraud, I got chills. People taking to the streets. Protesting – in person and on blogs. Mousavi posting calls to action on his website.

The blogging and tweeting echoed the story I told in an infographic script written for the Vancouver Film School. A script forged from the research I did for my screenplay. Guess what the video was about? Iranian bloggers — and their attempts to get their voices heard. A revolution within the revolution.

Persians are an intelligent, strong, and courageous people. I am inspired by their determination to get their story out to the world. They have embraced technology in the struggle for freedom of expression in a way we take for granted in North America.

Why do you think the Iranian government has blocked SMS messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and any other means of communicating instantly to organize? Because they’re scared of the power of the people.

I’m watching the news several times a day and scrolling through heart-wrenching photographs because this story embodies everything we who live in a democracy want to stand for — a chance to be heard.

Which is exactly what my script is about. And why I continue to get chills as I watch history unfold. Life connecting with art.

A World of Possibilities

February 24th, 2009

Cross-platform. Convergence. New Media. The many, many terms for, let’s face it, the Internet. The film and TV industries are scrambling to figure out how to work with this brave new world.

The challenge they’re really facing is how to make money. An important challenge. One I want to figure out as well. Why? Because as a writer/producer, the potential of the web is endless. For my imagination and my control issues. Read the rest of this entry »