Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Episode 21: Franchise Finales with Jonathan Auxier

Listen to "Episode 21 Franchise Finales with Jonathan Auxier" on Spreaker. Hi guys! We will get back to non-podcast related material soon, but first let’s do another episode, featuring returning guest Jonathan Auxier, who wanted to stop by and talk about franchise finales, because he’s preparing to write one himself. It’s another long one!

By the way, I can’t believe I failed to bring up “Avatar: The Last Airbender” at any point! Definitely one of the all-time great American sagas with one of the all-time great finales, very much in the same vein as Return of the Jedi in terms of rising above the idea of killing the bad guy. It’s funny that “Game of Thrones” has so much sex and violence but is ultimately a pretty juvenile series, while ATLA is appropriate for four year olds, but is 10x more emotionally mature and sophisticated than GOT.

UPDATE: Jonathan wanted to add this, which, as you’ll see why, I’m more than happy to include:
  • After we finished recording, I realized that Matt had made a pretty genius observation on this topic that passed without much comment. Matt is 100% right that beheading Thanos in the first 5 minutes of ENDGAME was an attack on unhealthy audience appetites. The moment was especially jarring because virtually every other installment in the Avengers franchise had basically ended with “punch the villain into submission” as the final solution (which might explain why I haven’t liked earlier installments in the series). ENDGAME changes everything. It serves up violence right at the beginning ... but instead of solving things, it makes everything worse! That single move accomplishes so much in terms of plot and theme. It’s a huge escalation -- suddenly our heroes are encountering a problem that violence can't solve. It creates enormous uncertainty in both the audience and characters. AND it’s retraining our palates to crave deeper truth (what we need) rather than simplistic fighting (what we want). In the big finale, the movie is smart enough to give us some epic fighting. But all of that noise falls away for the true climax: Tony Stark's sacrifice. Killing off such a beloved character should incite riot -- but we accept it because we’ve seen where the simplistic solution lands us. Even better, Tony Stark in that moment is really reflecting the growth that the audience has experienced over the course of the movie. We’re right there with him as he realizes that this is not a problem he can laser-blast his way out of. The climax of ENDGAME isn’t happy; but it is deeply satisfying. And in the long run, that’s much more important.  
I agree with Jonathan: I’m awesome. 

I especially like in Endgame how Thanos is about to make some profound moral ruminations on his genocide and we in the audience are thinking “fuck this guy and his profundity!  He killed billions of people!”  Then Thor just chops his head off before he can finish his point and we’re like “Oh hell yeah” ...but then it’s instantly unsatisfying. 

Oh, and Jonathan, one more piece of advice: Don't overdo the loss-for-loss’s-sake in the final book.  The one thing I really hate about the Harry Potter books is that they killed off Fred in the finale, which felt like “final book sense of loss” just for the sake of “final book sense of loss”.  I think Rowling felt like “I’m killing off many beloved characters, but I need one that’ll really hurt even more than the others” and it was just too much.  It ruins the other books as you reread then, knowing how tragically things will turn out for Fred and even moreso for George, losing his twin.  You don’t kill off the comic relief!

(When I read the books to my daughter, I meant to cut out that death, but it snuck up on me.  Now that I’m reading them to my son, I’ll figure out how to snip it out.)

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Episode 20: The Man Who Won the War

Listen to "Episode 20: The Man Who Won the War" on Spreaker.Listen to "The Secrets of Story: A Screenwriting & Novel Writing Podcast" on Spreaker. Oh dear god, people, it’s a new episode of the podcast just one week after the last one! Is this new normal? No, it isn’t! There almost certainly won’t be a new episode next week. But hey, it’s kinda fun, isn’t it?

In this episode we ask a basic question: Do writers lose something when they actually learn to write like a professional?  To answer it, we delve into my tragic origin story.  We spend this episode discussing my 2004 biopic-script about Alan Turing, The Man Who Won the War, and comparing it to the unrelated 2014 biopic that actually got made, The Imitation Game. If you want to read my script, you can download it here, but I think you can enjoy the episode just fine whether or not you do so.

Meanwhile, let me say a word about the ads. I joined the IFH podcast network with the understanding that we would have two ads at the very beginning and two ads at the very end, but the deal has unfortunately changed. It’s not Alex’s fault: just this week, he was as surprised as I was when our host Spreaker announced that, from now on, they’ll demand one ad for every ten minutes of podcast! For our shorter episodes, those ads at the beginning and end have it covered. For most of our episodes, which are 50-something minutes, I’ve added an ad between the ending music and the closing spiel, but for our longest episodes, like Laika, I’ve had to add a ton of ads interrupting me and James. I’m sorry about this and Alex is sorry about this. This was not supposed to happen.

(This is why they were inserting a random ad interrupted us at the 2 minute mark on some epsiodes. Well, those ads are gone, but only because I’ve replaced them elsewhere.)

Right away, this is an issue, because this episode is 74 minutes, and I really don’t want the ads to interrupt us. So I recorded a version of this spiel at the beginning and then pause for two more ads before we get started.