Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pangs of Moralizing


As one who has his feet in both the world of writing and the world of the church, I am often asked to create a piece of writing (play, screenplay, story) for faith based organizations.

I like doing so, as it gives me a chance to blatantly blend two important areas of my life – faith and art. (These two areas are blended in everything I do, just not always so blatantly.)

But there are times when my producers try to push me to lean away from story and focus solely on getting a message across – less art, more propaganda.

It is tricky to try and explain why that is counterproductive. Coming from a world where sermons can lead audiences in droves to the altar, the people from the church business can’t help but to think of story as just another way to preach.

But story is a lousy preaching platform; and if you get those same folk to honestly talk about the stories that impacted their lives, you’ll likely find them sermon-free.  Preaching just isn’t a strength of the medium.



A story works emotionally first; if there is a message, it comes through the experience, not by stating a moral.

My pastor last week talked about the difference between exposing people to truth, and experiencing truth. Unless someone experiences truth, it doesn’t quite stick.

Storytelling is a way to get people to experience; at least that is what it does best.

Take a look at Jesus’ parables – while there may be preaching and teaching around the stories, there isn’t much within the stories.

Even stories that contain great speeches – think On the Waterfront, or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or Some More Recent Movie That I Just Can’t Think of Right Now, the monologues are earned by the speaker through experience, and are almost commentaries on the story rather than sermons.

So what does one do when they want to tackle a big issue within a story?  The Bitter Script Reader has a nice write up on the topic, examining a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode written by Jane Espenson.

A captive audience...


Well worth the look, as an experienced script reader digs into a work by one of the better writers in television.

The summary: serve the story first, and give all sides their due.

Favorite line from the blog post

“Even if Jane Espenson had a point she wanted to make, she seems to be smart enough to know that simply preaching an idea that goes unchallenged isn't the way to win converts to your side.”

So, if you want to hire me to write a piece that includes a message, expect me to fight for the story first – only because I really care about the message.

Just my thoughts,

Sean



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Clarifying

My fancy hotel didn't have the typical teeny bottles of shampoo.

Instead they provided their guests with "Clarifying Hair Cleanser."

Yep, they used the word "clarifying" to obscure their meaning.

Nicely done, irony hotel.

Just my thoughts,

Sean


Monday, November 28, 2011

Thankful for: Childhood Magic

Jeffrey Overstreet's nostalgic review of the newest from the world of the Muppets.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for: Books


For as long as I remember, I have been immersed in books.

When I was in elementary school, our teacher had a competition for who could read the most books in a month. I decided to start by reading all of the Happy Hollister books.

There were 33 of them.

I got through them before the month was out.

The other kids never had a chance.



My house was the perfect setting for a serial reader. My dad got a hold of a bunch of gun ammo cases, took off the lids, flipped them on their side and made book shelves for the front hall.

Floor to ceiling of books, many with covers blackened, a reminder that they survived the fire that claimed our earlier house. But the pages inside were clean.

But that wasn’t nearly enough space, so when the back porch was walled in to create an extra room, it became the de facto library. (Some joke that our bathroom was a library - it wasn't. It was a reading room. There's a difference.)

Three of the four walls were bookshelves; again, floor to ceiling, every nook and cranny crammed with reading material.

When I would encounter my various bouts of insomnia, I would sneak downstairs, grab my coat (the room was not insulated) and spend hours in the back room.

I’d climb on the furniture, pick an upper shelf, and run my thumb along the book spines until I found a title that held my interest.

Maybe one of the dozens of RD condensed book collections, or a biography, or a mystery, or a science book decked out with illustrations or a legal textbook (I was enthralled with the law). If the title grabbed me, I would pull out the volume and start reading, perched precariously on the back of the sofa or the arm of a chair.

If it didn’t hold my interest, it would go back on the shelf. (I tried reading Peyton Place like this; the cover promised it would be shockingly fascinating. It wasn’t.)



If the book grabbed my attention, I would slowly sink down into the furniture and read until my eyes drooped. Then off to bed.

I have been thinking about my childhood reading habits because of Disney and Don.

Disney is making a movie of the John Carter of Mars books; I saw the trailer and realized that I hadn’t read any of those adventures.

Even though I promised Don that I would.

Don was one of my best friends, and also a voracious reader. While my reading was wide, his was deep.

Sci-fi was his game, and the Dune trilogy or Foundation series were light reading for him.

We would constantly recommend books to each other – usually I was pushing murder mysteries of the Nero Wolf / Ellery Queen vein; he was trying to get me to follow him through Herbert and Asimov.

He was the one who pushed me to get past the movies and read TARZAN, for which I am very grateful. (One of the best looks at sociology out there.)



And as Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs also wrote another favorite series of his – the stories of John Carter’s adventures on Mars -- it didn’t take much to get me to agree to read some of those books as well.

Except, I never did get around to it.

Until now – just finished A PRINCESS OF MARS; a ripping good tale. (Burroughs tackles another foreign society – but of another planet rather than just a jungle on earth.)



So, Don – thank you for the recommendation.

And thank you for not holding me to a time limit on my promise…

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kids Rolling in the Deep

The singer is ten; the drummer thirteen; all other instruments played by their fifteen year old brother.

Don't want to brag or nothin', but when I was her age I could play "Drink to Me with Thine Eyes" on the accordion.

Both hands.

Enjoy.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Buttons and Bows

Young girls should be dainty, and dress with bows in their hair.

Or at least bows in their hands.

Here are two such girls that I am looking forward to seeing on the big screen.




Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christology of Who: Boomtown Part Two


A look at a few of the spiritual themes in Doctor Who, episode “Boomtown” by Russell T. Davies.

SPOILER ALERT:  I will be giving away the end of the episode.

Episode bits pulled from Who Transcripts.

For part one, go here.



The story so far: Margaret (aka Blon Fel Fotch), is about to be sent back home to a waiting death penalty by the Doctor. She has made several efforts to convince the Doctor to let her go, none of them work.



So Margaret forgets arguments, turns the table on the Doctor, and prepares to use the Tardis to blow up the world and ride her surfboard to freedom.

But in doing so, she exposes herself to the Heart of the Tardis.

Bathed in its light, really. 


Breathing heavily, Margaret stares into the light, as if forgetting everything else. Her voice becomes dreamy and vague.
MARGARET
It's ... so bright...
THE DOCTOR
Look at it, Margaret...
MARGARET
... Beautiful...
THE DOCTOR
Look inside, Blon Fel Fotch. Look at the light. 
Margaret is transfixed by the light, and her grip on Rose relaxes. Rose stumbles out of the way and back to Jack. Margaret continues to stare into the light, a blissful smile spreading across her face. Then, she looks up at the Doctor who smiles slightly.
MARGARET
(softly, genuinely)
Thank you ...
She is engulfed by the light, and when it clears, her body-suit flops on top of the extrapolator, empty.
She’s not dead, as one (or at least Jack) might suppose.

Rather, the Spirit that has engulfed her transforms her back into an egg. 


ROSE
She's an egg?
THE DOCTOR
Regressed to her childhood.
JACK
She's an egg?
THE DOCTOR
She can start again! Live her life from scratch. If we take her home, give her to a different family, tell 'em to bring her up properly, she might be all right!
JACK
Or she might be worse.
THE DOCTOR
That's her choice.
ROSE
She's an egg.
THE DOCTOR
She's an egg.
And thus, has a chance to be saved.

It’s not pity, or good deeds, or promises or threats – the only way to be avoid the death penalty, the only true grace, is to be bathed by the Spirit and born again.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Next up: Dalek and Parting of Ways

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christology of Who: Boomtown Part One


“You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
   who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
   you were angry.
   How then can we be saved?”
Isaiah 64:5

A look at a few of the spiritual themes in Doctor Who, episode “Boomtown” by Russell T. Davies.

SPOILER ALERT:  I will be giving away the end of the episode.

Episode bits pulled from Who Transcripts.



Here’s the story:

The Doctor catches Margaret (aka Blon Fel Fotch), a Slitheen (alien race, don’t ‘cha know) hiding in a human skin, who has twice now tried to destroy the earth. First go around it was to sell off bits of radioactive earth for profit; this time to power a vessel (cosmic surf board, really) to escape earth.



The Doctor decides to take her home – and turn her over to the authorities.

But here’s the twist: Margaret’s homeworld has the death penalty, and Margaret has already been tried and sentenced in absentia. Going home means being punished by death.

Before they can go, the Tardis needs to be powered up, so they have some time to kill.



I should mention a thing or two about the Tardis – the space/time ship that the Doctor travels in. It is powered by something called “the Heart of the Tardis” – a sentient energy within the big blue box.

The Heart of the Tardis is an ephemeral force, a spirit form. She is telepathic, and can guide the Doctor even from a distance. The Doctor travels where he likes, but the Heart will often nudge him (or push him) to specific times and locales.

And the Heart has the gift of tongues – she is the universal translator for all who travel in the Tardis. 

Margaret is very impressed by the Tardis.

MARGARET
I almost feel better about being defeated. We never stood a chance. This is the technology of the Gods. 
THE DOCTOR
Don't worship me - I'd make a very bad God. You wouldn't get a day off, for starters.
 
Anywho, the Doctor and company are waiting for the Heart to get refueled, and that leaves some time for Margaret to plead her case with the Doctor. 

And she has all kinds of reasons why she feels the Doctor should let her avoid the death penalty.



First she tries a little guilt: if the Doctor takes her in, that makes him a murderer, right? The argument is ignored – another’s transgression doesn’t make Margaret any less guilty.

Then she tries to get the Doctor to pity her – and he does. But having pity on someone doesn’t erase their guilt, nor their debt.

Then she argues that she has changed, that she won’t be trying to destroy the world again. The Doctor counters that change isn’t in her nature. After all,she tries twice to poison the time lord while making these pleas.

Then she provides proof that she can be virtuous. There was a woman that she was going to kill, but she didn’t. See, she did a good thing!

THE DOCTOR
It doesn't mean anything.
MARGARET
I spared her life. 
THE DOCTOR
You let one of them go, but that's nothing new. Every now and then, a little victim's spared. Because she smiled... because he's got freckles... 'cos they begged... and that's how you live with yourself. That's how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind's in the right direction... you happen to be kind. 
In other words, doing some good doesn’t erase doing bad.

Her last attempt for clemency is to argue that she is not responsible for her own behavior. It is just the way she was raised; it was her community, her environment, not her.

Yeah, the Doctor doesn’t buy that either.

There is nothing that Margaret can do or say to be saved.

To be continued…

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"But First, I Need To Know If We Believe the Same Things..."

Jeffrey Overstreet puts together some interesting thoughts from a Christian's perspective on the dangers of listening only to those that agree with you.

Take a gander.

jmt,

Sean

Monday, November 14, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Got Jellybeans?

Get 288,000 of them, and you can make a music video.


Friday, November 11, 2011

BADD: My Character Would Never Say That

I'm pretty proud of this one - I have wanted to write this character since my days working with Howard Stein (he wasn't fond of actors whose characters "would never say that.")


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Christology of Who: More On "The Doctor Dances"


A look at a few of the spiritual themes in Doctor Who, episode “The Doctor Dances” by Steven Moffat

For an earlier discussion of these episodes and a synopsis, go here.



There is a very moving, deeply moving moment in “The Doctor Dances.” 

Thing is, I completely missed it first go around, because I didn’t have a clue yet as to how ridiculously momentous that moment was.

After watching the following few years with David Tennant, and I got to understand what was happening.
 
The moment is after the nanogenes start to learn, and the Doctor makes a plea to the universe:

THE DOCTOR
Oh, come on. Give me a day like this. Give me this one. 

He is indeed given “this one,” and the nanogenes do their work. And not only is the boy healed, but everyone is healed.

THE DOCTOR
Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once. Everybody lives!
There’s the moment, the deep deep moment: the joy of the Doctor is unbounded, he has reason to dance – everybody lives!



That is so momentous because it is so rare.

Yes, the Doctor saves the day, time after time. But it almost always comes at a heavy price.

In the end, the majority of humanity is all right; but along the way, many are lost.

This is one source of the Doctor’s deep sadness – the weight of those that weren’t saved in the process of saving those that are.

Doing right has a cost; conquering evil has a cost.

Letters of Note has a letter on its site written by an American OSS officer to his son. One of the many remarkable things is that the letter is written on Adolf Hitler’s stationary. (You can see the letter here.)

After the fall of Hitler, the author got his hands on some stationary, and sent this letter: 
Dear Dennis,

The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe — three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins. He had a thirst for power, a low opinion of man as an individual, and a fear of intellectual honesty. He was a force for evil in the world. His passing, his defeat — a boon to mankind. But thousands died that it might be so. The price for ridding society of bad is always high.

Love, Daddy

The Doctor has a right to dance – he has been given a great gift. For once, just once! everybody lives!

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

Next up:  Boomtown

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Headline

Insight into how various news outlets come up with their headlines:

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Christology of Who: The Doctor Dances


From Empty to Child

A look at a few of the spiritual themes in Doctor Who, episodes “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” by Steven Moffat

SPOILER ALERT:  As we look at this Doctor Who episode, I wanted to give my warning again: I will be giving away the end of the episode.



What you need to know:

In the frequently bombarded, WWII London, a ghostly boy of five, wearing a gas mask, wanders the streets calling for his mummy. The child doesn’t seem to have much vocabulary or understanding beyond asking, “Are you my mummy?”

Oh, and he isn’t wearing a gas mask, his face is a gas mask. And anyone he touches, becomes sick, dies, and is reanimated with a face turned into a gas mask.

The boy targets a girl named Nancy, following her throughout the town, persistently asking, “Are you my muumy?”



The cause of the troubles is a space ambulance that has crashed in London. The ambulance was full of nanogenes – the way they heal is by invading the body of the patient and rebuilding the dna to replace the sickly parts.

When the ambulance crashed, the only “patient” nearby was the boy – already dead and wearing a gas mask. The nanogenes didn’t know what a human was supposed to be, and assumed the gas mask as a face, and rebuilt the boy as best they could – animated outside, near empty inside.

And then assumed that all of humanity was supposed to be like this dead boy – and so whenever the nanogenes are transferred to another, they remake the new person in the image of the scared masked boy looking for his mother.



Before I continue, here’s a story from history:

Jesus of Nazareth was traveling about with his disciples, teaching and healing. One day as they walked along a road, they came across a leper.

Leprosy is a highly contagious disease that disfigures the victim; in that day there was no known cure. As such, lepers where labeled “unclean,” and laws strictly forbade any physical contact.

This leper fell to his knees in the path of Jesus and the disciples.

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean,” he called out.

So what did Jesus do? Not caring what would happen to himself, he reached out and touched the leper, saying,

“I am willing. Be clean.”

And the man was instantly cured of his disease. The healed man then went about the countryside, blabbing about his healing, which brought even more crowds to the healer.

Now back to the Doctor:



At the climax of the story, the Doctor, Nancy, Rose and Jack are at the site of the crash, and the Doctor has figured out what the nanogenes are doing. But, alas, there is no weapon that can stop the little healers from destroying all of humanity.

All the gasmaskers show up, led by the little boy, still calling for his mummy.

And the Doctor figures out one more thing – why the boy keeps chasing down Nancy. Up to now, it has been thought (by Nancy’s own lie) that the boy is her brother. But she is a bit older than she looks...

The Doctor encourages her to face the truth, and answer the boy.
THE CHILD
Are you my mummy?
NANCY
(kneeling before him)
I'm here.
THE CHILD
Are you my mummy?
NANCY
(whispers)
Yes.
THE DOCTOR
(to Rose)
He doesn't understand. There's not enough of him left.
Nancy looks at her little boy.
NANCY
(tearful, sincere)
I am your mummy. I will always be your mummy. I'm so sorry.
And she takes him into her arms, no longer caring what will happen. The nanogenes surround them, making them glow with a golden light.
Please note that little bit of action – she takes the child in her arms, not caring what will happen to herself.



The nanogenes wrap up the duo, and when they separate, the boy takes off his gasmask – back from the dead and fully healed.

As the doctor explains, the nanogenes recognized the mother as the true model, and corrected their mistake.
Then, with prompting from the Doctor, the nanogenes revisit all the people they’ve corrupted, and heal them.

And not just from the damage done by the nanogenes – but from all prior damage. They are now in perfect health.

Here are a few things that I took away from these stories.

Transformation starts with an act of love and transformation is risky. It starts with a reaching out, a touching – and such actions comes with risk of infection.

Transformation is a gift from the outside. The power doesn’t come from within, but is sparked by the outside. We can’t transform ourselves on our own; but perhaps we can be the catalyst to someone else’s transformation.

Transformation is contagious. From the example of the empty child becoming a boy named Jamie again, others likewise afflicted are able to be saved. One leper healed on the road leads to crowds coming for healing and teaching.

Transformation requires a modeling of the healthy DNA.  The nanogenes were working on the wrong model, and needed to encounter the correct model before they could be set right. (Likewise, the leper’s body was working on the wrong model…)



An act of love, a risk, a transformation, a modeling.

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.

“I am willing,” he said.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

ps I do have one more point to make on this episode, but let’s hold that off for next time, shall we?

Episode transcripts pulled from Who Transcripts.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Critical Positives

From the desk of "people smarter than me" comes an artist's look at critique.

"5 Positive Things Critiques Can Do For You" is a good read for anyone who puts their work into the world. Take a gander.

Just my thoughts,

Sean

BADD: More Wise Counsel

I cameo in this one:


Sunday, November 06, 2011