Podcast

Sunday, November 18, 2018

New Podcast Episode: The Jedi in Decline

I told you we’d be back a lot quicker this time! Well, we spiked an earlier episode about The Last Jedi, but James hijacks this one and finally gets the discussion he wanted.  We start out with my belief that most stories are based on problem solving, but then James brings up the hidden back half of the hero’s journey offered by Lord Raglan, and, of course, brings it all around to a certain recent movie.

And then he claims that you caused Trump by not liking Jar-Jar Binks. Depending on your political bent, you can feel happy or guilty about that!

19 comments:

Eric C said...

Matt, I was actually pretty surprised to hear that you feel that Pulp Fiction is so unlike the storytelling that you've been advising on all these years.

I found that while yes, the movie doesn't really have a clear singular protagonist, and yes, it isn't told sequentially, if you look at it on the level of themes and eliciting emotional responses from the audience, it's actually not that different from other movies. An awful lot of the things you've taught here is pretty much applied how I'd expect it to be applied. And yeah, Tarantino never did anything as good afterwards, and most of the people who imitated the movie did terrible work imitating the most meaningless stuff.

On the subject of of TLJ, James was right that there was a pretty well substantiated attempt by Russian psy-ops to polarize people over it. Now obviously there wasn't lot of people deciding that they did or didn't like the movie based entirely because of Russian mind control memes distributed on twitter, but the point wasn't to decide people's opinion on a movie, the point was to make everyone on both sides feel like they're being unjustly persecuted about their opinion on the movie because everyone disagreeing with them was making it this crazy political thing, so that everyone would get defensive and insular and cooperation in our society would break down a bit more.

Matt Bird said...

Well, Pulp Fiction blows out the structure part of the checklist, and a lot of the character as well, but certainly a lot of the other advice applies, such as scenework and theme.

What can I say, I think the Russia claims are hysterical, in regards to both TLJ and the election. People get very attached to Star Wars, and they don't want to hear any criticism, so they blame the Ruskies. And is the claim that Putin actually directed this personally? Does that make sense? In the 60s, the establishment blamed campus unrest on Russian influencers, because no good American kids could have honest disagreements with US policy, and I think it's the same way today with TLJ and Clinton. People genuinely dislike TLJ for legitimate reasons. (It was, if nothing else, atrociously paced) People genuinely disliked Clinton for legitimate reasons (though she was certainly far better than Trump). Nobody needed to be duped into disliking any of these things by misinformation campaigns. In the 60s, was there a handful of bumbling Russian agents trying to further stoke campus unrest? Sure, maybe, why not? But if so, they were just riding a wave and pretending they'd started it. Likewise with TLJ and Clinton, but in all three cases those unwilling to criticize the targets loved having a Russian bogeyman to blame all the criticism on. I don't buy it.

James Kennedy said...

"8 U.S. Intelligence Groups Blame Russia for Meddling"

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/07/16/us/elections/russian-interference-statements-comments.html

Who are you going to believe, 8 U.S. Intelligence agencies or a screenwriting blogger?

Matt, it doesn't seem like you are offering any refutation to these claims other than it doesn't feel right to you. You're conflating the *fact* of whether or not Russians pursued a psyop with whether or not you find it plausible.

James Kennedy said...

And while we're at it . . .

"A large majority of the social media comments about the film were "deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments." By analyzing tweets about the movie, Bay found a coordinated effort, similar to the one used in the lead-up to the 2016 election, to weaponize the debate about the movie to further the notion of chaos in American society. "Persuading voters of this narrative remains a strategic goal for the US alt-right movement, as well as the Russian Federation," Bay writes. "The results of the study show that among those who address The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson directly on Twitter to express their dissatisfaction, more than half are bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality. A number of these users appear to be Russian trolls."

https://www.wired.com/story/star-wars-russian-trolls-study/

I get it that it doesn't "feel" right to you, Matt, but it's pretty well substantiated that it happened.

Again, the fact of whether or not Russian interference and internet psyops occurred is completely separate about whether you can draw some comparison to something else in the 1960s, or whether you feel it puts you in an unfair rhetorical position in an argument. It happened.

Matt Bird said...

No less a personage than the president of the United States was convinced that campus unrest was the result of Russian agitators. Two presidents in a row, in fact, a Democrat and a Republican, so they couldn't be wrong. And the FBI and CIA were happy to back them up. I'm just saying that you have to realize how much you sound like Nixon. Are there 4chan and 8chan morons from throughout the world stirring up shit for the lulz? Of course. Twitter is toxic.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

“Undone." Hm.

Time to riff...

The story begins with Our Hero (hereafter named “Gus”) demonstrating his power by trying to prevent an ambulance accident. We see him try a couple of fairly clever methods to thwart the crash. Eventually he hits on a way to get another car to hit the ambulance before the ambulance hits something else. Gus looks in and sees that while people are hurt, nobody’s dead or dying. He lets out a sharp “YES!” to the dismay of onlookers and walks away.

Gus appears to be insane. He hops around his city doing oddball things, things that make no sense: moving a trash can; calling up a stranger and telling them he left his headlights on; pulling a fire alarm; and so forth. During his rounds, he is cold and aloof. At one point he runs into a woman named Adrienne and for some reason she rattles him. Badly. His large reaction – and the fact that he somehow knows her name -- unsettles her. Is he stalking her?

Not long thereafter, he shows up to her work, this time not so crazed. Gus apologizes for his previous reaction to her; he’d just had a death in the family and he knew who she was because they’d met briefly some time back. His specificity about when they were introduced and why she didn’t remember him put her at some ease. He explains that he wants the company she works for to do [some crazy thing]. She’s incredulous. He says has the money to pay for it, as he’s a recent lottery winner. Second place, a healthy chunk of change.

As they work together, she finds that he’s weird and cold, but with odd cracks in his façade. They grow close and he freaks the hell out. As she’s about to tell this emotional trainwreck of a man to piss off, she sees him do something utterly bizarre that triggers a Rube Goldberg string of events that causes an ambulance to be on hand just when a middle-aged woman has a heart attack on the sidewalk. She demands to know how he knew to do that.

And so he lays it out: he doesn’t know why, but he can rewind his life and change things. He’s prevented car crashes, murders, and all sorts of problems. That’s also how he won the lottery, of course. (Why second place? Draws less attention.) He provides examples and yeah, it tracks.

She chews on this, then explodes. Holy forking shirtballs, that’s how you knew my name. You *are* a goddamn stalker. How many times have you gone back to re-do things just right to snare me?

At this, Gus spirals. This is not about you, he rants. In fourteen weeks, a disaster is coming and thousands will die. The fallout from it will be even worse. Gus explains that he’s been trying to prevent those deaths for…a long time. His lunatic job for her company is designed towards that end.

(cont'd in another comment)

James Kennedy said...

Again you're focusing on the optics, but not the facts. "You have to realize how much you sound like Nixon . . . " Guilt by association, but not actually engaging with the details of what actually happened this time.

The parallel that you draw is ridiculous -- in the case you're referencing, the FBI and CIA were running interference for the president. In this case the FBI and CIA are directly contradicting the president. In 2016-2018 the FBI, etc. have every reason to get-along-to-go-along with the president, but they're not. That actually makes my case stronger, not weaker.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

(cont'd)

[The nature of the disaster is TBD. A terrorist attack provides drama and clear antagonists, but it also raises questions like “why doesn’t Gus just call the FBI, shoot the terrorist leader ten years earlier, etc.” Jeremy-Bearimy time paradoxes (JBTP) could answer those questions (e.g., “I did kill the guy before, but another guy took his place!” “When the FBI stopped one attack, another happened!”), but putting those in make Gus’s efforts seem foolhardy. If it’s inevitable, what are you doing, doofus?

A man-made disaster (e.g., gas main leak leads to explosion, plane crash, etc.) similarly seems too easy for a time-travelling man to thwart in the absence of JBTP. As above, if JBTP turn up, pressing on would make Gus seem idiotic.

A natural disaster (e.g., earthquake, sinkhole, flood) wouldn’t need the invocation of JBTP, but it would lack dramatic fire. In stories, deaths caused by malice or carelessness are more dramatic than those caused by Acts of God. Sure, it’s great that he’s coming up with a plan to save thousands of lives from the Great Anaheim Sinkhole, but it also seems…impersonal? (Yes, I realize that I sound like a psychopath.) Moreover, it seems unlikely that it would be so damn hard to clear the area before it all goes wrong.

What sort of disaster would prove nigh-impossible for a time-travelling dude to prevent or mitigate that doesn’t abuse JBTP? Argh.]


What comes out is that he’s been trying this plan over and over, and it almost works but doesn’t quite, and thousands die, every time. He’s gone back years and years to nip the disaster in the bud and/or set up the countermeasures in a way that gives them time to mature, and it never works. Adrienne asks Gus how long he’s…”lived.” Gus thinks hard and guesses at least five centuries. Probably a lot longer.

The last one was so close. And it was the worst failure he’d ever had. Because he knew he had it right. He convinced himself it was going to be fine at last. Because last time, he and Adrienne met. About a decade ago. They fell in love. Married. Had children. He’d never done that before. But he thought that this time, his plan was perfect and his love was strong, and it was going to work out.

He was wrong and thousands died again. The plan failed due to an unforeseen factor that manifested twelve years earlier. And so Gus had to choose. He could continue on with his wife and children, knowing that maybe, just maybe, he could have saved those people but he chose not to try. Or he could go back in time yet again. But it would be before the kids were born, before he met Adrienne. Even if he was able to restart a life with her, it wouldn’t be exactly the same. Even if they had kids, they wouldn’t be the same kids. The odds on a particular sperm meeting a particular egg are astronomical. The kids would never have been. How could he make that choice? To prevent their little girl, grumpy and hilarious Juliet, and their toddler, snot-nosed, giggly William, from ever being born? How could he?

But he did. Because how could he not? To prevent having to make that choice ever again, he stayed away from Adrienne.

Adrienne, horrified, does not know how to react.

He’d kept away from Adrienne as long as possible this time, but he couldn’t avoid involving her at this final stage. Despite his best efforts, they fell in love again. He apologizes. He asks for her help.

She agrees to press on with his plan.

And this time…it works. Thousands of lives are saved.

(cont'd)

Harvey Jerkwater said...

(CONT'D! THAT'S RIGHT, I'M NOT DONE YET)

But then…another time traveler emerges and starts screwing with Gus’s life.

[MORE STUFF HAPPENS. LOVE, TREACHERY, DEATH, NINJAS, TIME TRAVEL, BAKED GOODS, ETC.]

Notes:
--This would gender-flip cleanly.
--The gimmick is close to Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow, so it’d be necessary to take care to avoid aping either.
--I’m not sure if I stopped at the Birdian midpoint – “the protagonist gets what he wants but it all goes pear-shaped” – or near the end.
--I can think of one movie with the stones to have a protagonist’s children erased and stay erased: The Family Man starring Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni. I’m not a big fan of it, but hoo doggy, I can’t help but admire the brass ones it took to end it the way they did. Those kids were major characters, too.
--Gus’s decision to go back One Last Time, thereby erasing his kids, absolutely has to be backstory. You can’t dramatize it. The audience would never, ever forgive him.
--Needs more baked goods.

(okay, now I'm done.)

Matt Bird said...

That's amazing! I love your version. Wiping out the kids is such intense personal drama! I ended up doing a lot of the same stuff you did, but I had no terrorism aspect, which made it much smaller.

After we recorded this podcast, I went back and read the script for the first time in eight years and I discovered I love it! (I told James this, and then he asked to read it, and then never responded, so I suspect he didn't like it, but what does he know?) It sucks when you write something good and send it to your reps and they pass on it. Do you dump it or dump them? In retrospect, I should have dumped them and found a better fit (even though I went on to make some money doing adaptation jobs they helped me get ...but maybe I could have made more money with someone else who didn't quash my own material so much?)

Eric C said...

Matt,

I feel like you're talking past me, here. I said myself that I doubt too many people disliked TLJ because the Russians got to them. (And similarly, Hillary Clinton has been unpopular since before they even settled into their current government.)

Their operations were never meant to decide people's opinions on trifling matters, but to reframe common discussions in such a way as to make people polarize over them, to replace actual discourse with a mutual sense of being the only sane person in crazytown.

To put it another way: I'm not defending TLJ. I don't care for it myself, so obviously I'm not saying your opinion on it has to have been implanted.

However, the fact that you feel persecuted about an opinion we both share, enough that you ignored what I actually said because just bringing up the subject triggered a need to launch into a defense of yourself despite the fact that I agree with you? That's exactly what it was about.

Matt Bird said...

Sorry to ignore what you said! Yes, I've been exasperated for some time on this subject, which I guess, as you say, might be the point. I know full well that I am in no way persecuted by anybody, certainly not you guys (Not even James!)

Garrett said...

Enjoyed the discussions on this episode! As James talked about the Decline and Fall structure I couldn't help but think of the plot of Dune, which I just read for the first time (I tried when I was a teenager, but really couldn't get past the first few pages somehow). Have you guys read it or thought about it in relation to your story structure?

It definitely fits the larger beats of the standard hero's journey James described on this episode, and as I understand it, in the sequels the protagonist declines big time... Still, the plot of Dune itself is very weirdly paced, and almost everything is preordained, as made explicit by each chapter starting with an excerpt from a future telling of the story your're actually reading... Yet even though nothing surprises us, even though it has the awful "chosen one" conceit, somehow the action is entirely compelling. For me, it is the complexity and detail of the culture being described... nothing seems extraneous. Not saying it's perfect, but it is very compelling.

As for the "Undone" plot, it reminds me a lot of the Star Trek TNG episode "cause and effect," or that TV series "Morning Edition," which I've never actually seen.

I like your smaller take on the concept, which makes me think of a Charlie Kaufman film or maybe M. Night Shamalan's "Unbreakable." I can see Jame's critique that it might be missing a main antagonist.. A way to solve that (like in Unbreakable) would be to have a person or group that is somehow aware of the lead's time-tampering and they attempt to use his powers for their own purposes... It could be the government, or maybe it could be a smaller antagonist, like in the film "Pi" where the wall-street types are trying to get the protagonist to crack the stock market... Or maybe it's a lost twin brother/sister who shares the ability or have since lost it... Ok maybe that's too much. But whatever that antagonist is, it wouldn't need to obscure the smaller character study you described...

I'm sure now that you've dusted it off you'll find the right way to go. Looking forward to the next episode!

And for the record, I completely agree with Matt re: TLJ

Matt Bird said...

I have never read Dune and always meant to. I suspect James has, so as to better understand a movie by his beloved Lynch.

Those are good antagonists! I like the Pi model. Somebody knows about his power and wants to use if for nefarious purposes.

Cecil said...

It seems to me that the 'grand old world passeth away' model might not be so far from the 'solve a big problem' model... For the characters in a setting like that, their problem *is* fitting into that world. Finding a place in it/functioning in the new system. It has been a very long time since I've seen Boogie Nights, but couldn't it be viewed (for many of the characters) as a 'big problem' story... just a tragedy? They try to fit into the new system, but fail (or in some cases - Don Cheadle? - succeed)?

We don't see every step along the way, and maybe I'm stretching the model to become too generalized and vague. But the broad shape of the narrative seems similar. What if the Great Old World Passes model is more of an archetypal *setting* ripe for telling a tragic sort of story? The connection with Lord Raglan's work and the fact that 'the fall' recurs is interesting, but it's not *always* present - some of the most 'successful' mythic hero stories don't include it (Jesus).

Maybe this is obvious, but perhaps it's a reason The Last Jedi feels 'off' to some people (without wading into any politics) - elements of that story make Luke's journey across all of the movies feel not like a successful 'large problem,' solved at the end of Return of the Jedi, but more like a tragedy where RotJ is the midpoint high. Luke does 'redeem himself at the end' of TLJ... but that makes his story rhyme with Darth Vader's even more, in a way.

James Kennedy said...

Hi, Cecil! Yeah, you're right, there's probably a way for the "old world passeth away" structure to be rephrased such that it fits with the "solve a big problem" structure ... and such an intellectual exercise might even work, in a mathematical way ... but as you said, that'd make the model too vague. I guess I don't come to these models for analysis, but rather as tools that inspire writing. Conceiving of the whole story as a world-is-passing-away tragedy would spur me as a writer to make different choices than the optimstic problem-solving structure. In short, one could force oneself to slot the events of BOOGIE NIGHTS or BRIDESHEAD REVISITED into a problem-solving structure, but I doubt that'd help anyone to write the next BOOGIE NIGHTS or BRIDESHEAD REVISITED.

I think Jesus does fit the Lord Raglan checklist ... 13 out of 22 for sure, maybe as high as 18. I've marked with a (*) the criteria that Jesus' story totally satisfies, and a (+) if it kinda or ironically satisfies it:

* 1. Mother is a royal virgin. Mary is a virgin, and a member of the house of David through marriage to Joseph.
* 2. Father is a king. Joseph isn't king, but Gospels put a lot of stress that he's of the House of David . . . so much so that Jesus is often termed "Son of David."
3. Father often a near relative to mother. Not that I know of.
* 4. Unusual conception. The Immaculate Conception.
* 5. Hero reputed to be son of god. Matthew 3:17, "And a voice from heaven said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'"
* 6. Attempt to kill hero as an infant, often by father or maternal grandfather. Herod the Great orders execution of all male children two years old and under in and around Bethlehem. He is not Jesus’ father or grandfather, but that is not a requirement.
* 7. Hero spirited away as a child. Jesus' parents flee with him to Egypt.
8. Reared by foster parents in a far country. He's raised by Mary and Joseph in Galilee. We might call Joseph a foster parent?
* 9. No details of childhood. There's almost nothing about Jesus' childhood in the canonical New Testament, other than a few lines in Luke.
+ 10. Returns of goes to future kingdom. Jesus, preaches in his own neighborhood, but maybe we could say when Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey to acclaim on Palm Sunday, that's going to his future kingdom?
+ 11. Is victor over king, giant, dragon or wild beast. Does Satan's tempting him in the desert count?
12. Marries a princess (often a daughter of predecessor). Jesus does not marry.
+ 13. Becomes king. He does become a leader of crowds, which might be a king in a metaphorical sense. He is often hailed a king and called king, although he does not actually become king -- except in an ironic way, when Pontius Pilate crowns him with thorns and puts a "King of the Jews" sign on him.
14. For a time he reigns uneventfully. No, he's a rabble-rouser who performs miracles.
* 15. He prescribes laws. Yes, he prescribes ways of behavior and belief through his preaching.
* 16 Later loses favor with gods or his subjects. Yes, the very crowd that cheered him on Palm Sunday demands his death on Good Friday. His own apostles abandon him.
+ 17. Driven from throne and city. Not precisely, but he does suffer a definite huge loss of status.
+ 18. Meets with mysterious death . . . He is crucified. Some supernatural events do attend this (the veil of the temple rips).
* 19. . . . Often at the top of a hill. I think Golgotha or Calvary is referred to as "skull hill."
* 20. His children, if any, do not succeed him. Yes, he has no blood successors.
* 21. His body is not buried. "On the third day he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven."
* 22. Has one or more holy sepulchers or tombs. Every church in the world.

Matt Bird said...

That's a lot of work, James! Pretty convincing, but I'm not giving you a raise.

Brian McLachlan said...

James, your story sounds a lot like the Nicholas Cage movie, Next.

An interesting villain could be the main character, and the protagonist is a person who notices the world keeps being rewritten and is determined to stop them, but may have a change of heart when they realize the villain's reasoning, and the two work together, since this person who notices the differences may have some sensitivity to the world and can see things the ex-villain can't? Or maybe not.

Matt Bird said...

Hey, the idea was mine, not James's! That would be a fascinating change.