Archive for the ‘Theme & Creative Devices’ Category

As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I was conditioned to look to the stars for the future of humanity. Outlying colonies on the moon or some distant star system seemed not only feasible, but likely as the population of Earth became too much of a hindrance on our (ever-more decreasing) natural resources. The current trend in technological development has been in complete contrast to my original view of the future; the past few issues of Bloomberg Business Week have all had some thought provoking articles on the subject of robotics. Why would we as humans choose to populate the world with an entirely different set of entities, when space is becoming an issue and general employment with a sense of purpose is becoming less and less attainable?

The first article that I read claimed that many jobs would eventually become irrelevant due to the advent of automatized machines that could replicate lower-level basic functions. My first thought on this article was positive; why would people want to subject themselves to repetitive and menial tasks that could be performed better by a machine? Sure it is an attack on human employment, but isn’t technology meant to make life better? And what could be better than allowing individuals previously damned to menial tasks to find work that would allow them to become more self-actualized?

The bottom line:

  • Robots would take jobs from humans
  • Individuals tasked with menial jobs may not have better employment opportunities
  • Robots may develop to a point that would threaten more than just lower-level jobs

So, just as I was able to force myself to sleep after reading this article, (not that I have a menial job, but I have seen Terminator more than once!) I came in contact with another article in the same publication. This article outlined the exponential growth of robot and AI (artificial intelligence) technologies in Japan, China, and Korea. Japan (Toshiba) has gone as far as creating a life-like android clothed in traditional Japanese garb at one of the nation’s major airports that provides basic information to travelers based on voice recognition and a sophisticated series of algorithms. So, where does my nerdy mind go? To popular fiction of course!

Humanoid ChihiraAico, clad in a Japanese kimono, greets a customer at an entrance of a department store in Tokyo, on April 20, 2015

In Spike Jonze’s modern day masterpiece, ‘Her’, an artificial intelligence is able to bridge the gap between mechanical regularity and humanistic emotion. I originally saw this idea as benign, as it was not attached to a physical body. Now, if the two ideas previously discussed are combined, I think that there may be a need for concern. Any Sci-Fi fan worth their salt would remember Phillip K. Dick’s look at the disconnection between the human spirit and mechanical logic as depicted in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ’In the novel, androids had become so life like that a series of psychological tests were created to determine if an individual was a human or an android; the twist: many of these creations were implanted with artificial memories and didn’t even know that they were not human!

What would these creations be considered if they were able to pass the Voigt-Kampff tests depicted in the novel? As algorithms become more sophisticated, artificial intelligences will likely be able to bridge this gap in the very near future.

And who knows?

Maybe Phillip K. Dick’s title question may one day be answered by an artificial consciousness that cannot be discerned from that of a human.

Those crazy kids!

Posted: July 18, 2013 in Theme & Creative Devices

As I sit here watching Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho I find myself entertained. In fact I find myself transported back to a time when I was eight or nine years old and up way past my bedtime with a blue and white “fuzzy cat” blanket pulled up to my chin. I remember seeing the black life’s blood of Vera Miles coiling down the drain like an oily black serpent and thinking, “what the hell is wrong with that guy? Why would he just kill her?” I can’t say that it kept me up that night or the next, but I know that I didn’t want to take a shower for a month or two, the point is that the visuals stuck with me and the possibilities of my own personal version of Norman Bates were always lurking.  Flash forward to 1975 and the terror has moved from the shower to the unstoppable force from below the sea, Jaws was even more terrifying to me, I couldn’t even swim in a pool without the light on in fear of having my tiny body ripped in two. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Jaws as it was one of the first “scary” movies that I got to experience with my oldest daughter. I remember her eyes, big and focused on the screen. I couldn’t wait to ask her if she was scared when the credits started to roll and she gave me a wise-ass smile and said that she just wanted to see what happened. She wasn’t even scared, not even a little bit! Given, she is a few years older than I was when I first saw the film, but I have to admit I was expecting a little more of a reaction.

My thoughts immediately went to some of the new wave horror that has been pooping up…oh sorry Freudian slip… popping up over the last ten or so years. By this I am talking mostly about the shock and awe inspired movies in the style of the Saw and Hostel franchises, that in my opinion are a small step above pornography for vampires. The point is that things have changed and the definition of horror has changed along with it.

Don’t get me wrong, of course I think that gore has a place in scary movies, but when it drives the story more than the characters and the plot combined I have to take a pass on that film.

I do pose a question to all of you horror fans out there; are modern viewers going to have to settle for this new flat-plotted status quo or are we ready for a renaissance in the horror business?

As I was re-writing one of my earlier screenplays this last week I came to a point that I wanted my main protagonist to have wicked inner tension. The type of internal conflict that a person can only have if they are making a decision that can completely change or in some cases even end their life. I thought to myself, “how can I get the maximum effect while still maintaining the absolute present tense in my script and keeping the whole thing fast paced and linear?”

I sat back in my chair for a moment and contemplated picking up one of the Walking Dead trade paper backs that I have been meaning to read, but I knew that was just the ever present and incredibly evil goblin of an entity that we writers have come to know as distraction. I decided to go get a drink of water instead and as I passed my movie collection my eyes were drawn to the cult classic (and one of my personal favorites), Fight Club.  I know how Tyler Durden creates tension in films; he splices single frames of pornography in them! With the thought of single frame usage my mind was immediately transported to the DVD release of the 1973 horror masterpiece, The Exorcist. The single frame inserts (in hindsight they may have been 2 or 3 frames) of Captain Howdy’s face against a black backdrop were pretty damn scary, mostly because they broke up the linear aspect of the story for an instant and gave our sub-conscious’ something to chew on for the whole rest of the movie! I remember thinking of that creepy bastards face more than the reverse crab walking Regan after I left the theater.

This technique has been employed in several other films with great success and can also help show the thoughts and inner workings of characters, which is normally taboo in the concise format of the traditional screenplay. The way I chose to employ these QUICK FLASHES in my script were slightly reminiscent of Arnold’s ride with Simon, the used car sales men in True Lies. As Simon talks about how hot Arnold’s wife is (and how dickless he is) the writer uses classic physical indications to show Arnold’s growing rage, such as the narrowing eyes, tensing of the muscles, and the white knuckled grip on the steering wheel.  None of these physical actions could portray his anger as well as the three second clip of Arnold killing the man in one punch, causing his bloody head to dangle lifelessly in the back corner of the convertible… Classic.

Consider the myriad of ancient tales where archetypal heroes slay dragons and the princess’ meet their own personal Prince Charming. Many classic stories seem to have consistent themes of overcoming adversity, alleviating tension, and decreasing conflict. The end? Well, riding off into the sunset of course, good guy gets the girl, bad guys are defeated, happily ever after. I know there are notable exceptions in classic literature such as the tragic heroes of Euripides and Shakespeare, or even the doomed protagonists in works by Victor Hugo. I believe most people want to be involved in a story that takes them through the highs and lows of a character’s plight and is neatly resolved with a happy ending that ties up all of the sub-plots and leaves no loose ends. As some of you may be thinking this is not the case in many of the most popular T.V. shows, works of literature, and modern films.

I don’t necessarily think that people have grown tired of the classic “good guys win” story line, but I do think that they have come to expect it. Doesn’t it add more tension to the viewing/reading experience if we don’t know what terrible fate may be in store for our hero? I would say yes, and isn’t creating tension what story telling is all about? Again yes! Long story short, it is tension that keeps viewers/readers coming back for more. Soap Operas utilize this, which is why everyone sleeps with everyone else, men fight, women connive, and of course the frequent and unfortunate cases of complete amnesia.

TENSION. TENSION. TENSION.

A new trend in modern story telling has been breaking all of the classic rules. No one is safe anymore. Kill a main character? You bet. What better way to add tension than to make people question everything. Some of the hottest shows on T.V. are banking on this week after week! The Walking Dead for one has shown that they are not afraid of killing main characters, so much so that every week viewers are crossing their fingers in hopes that their favorite character will not be devoured by zombies or shot by some rival group of survivors. Every time a character is faced with any form of danger it could be the end of them. This is true for the cast as well from what I hear, all of them are terrified of getting the “you’re gonna’ die this week” phone call. George R.R. Martin is doing the same thing in his bestselling fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, which in turn translates to the Game of Thrones HBO series. Having a seemingly revolving cast can be seen as detrimental to the opportunity for in depth character development, but when executed properly it can also work to humanize and quickly develop the surviving characters.