Notes On ‘Scriptnotes’

by Shelt Garner

I really enjoy the “Scriptnotes” podcast, but I do have some…notes. My chief beef is the very strength of the podcast is its weakness — it’s two very accomplished, successful and knowledgeable guys talking about what it’s like to be be two very accomplished, successful and knowledgeable guys.

As such, sometimes they are rather….patronizing…to the serious concerns of people who are just starting off in the business. The show seems more for people who actually have a career in Hollywood than someone who aspires to have a career in Hollywood.

But you can’t be all things to all people.

I guess I’m suggesting that there’s a market for a Scriptnotes for extras who aspire to be screenwriters. Or something. A program that takes novice screenwriter’s concerns about IP theft seriously, that kind of stuff.

Yet, in general, I find Scriptnotes interesting. I sometimes feel like a street urchin with my nose pressed against the glass of the podcast as they talk about their careers, but lulz.

Why Hollywood Needs More Movies Like ‘Greenland’

by Shelt Garner

Greenland was a good, but not great, movie. But there was one specific aspect to the movie that I have to give it credit for — it wallowed in the tacit conservatism of a regular dude put in extraordinary circumstances trying to keep his family safe.

It was CIS comfort food on a creative level and I think we need more of that kind of stuff if we, like, don’t want the United States to buckle and a second American civil war break out. I’m being serious — a lot of regular old center-Right people I know are really beginning to seethe with rage over “woke” “cancel culture” and the idea that a major Hollywood movie is simply tells a heteronormative story is a change of pace.

I’m all for representation in art — I’m going way out of my way to do just that in the novel I’m working on. But I also find it amusing that even in the genre I’m working with, there are some tropes that if I flip them or toy with them cause me to end up in, well, some pretty heteronormative territory without even thinking about it.

The point is — there’s plenty enough room in this world for all God’s chillins. I love the liberal democracy I live in right now and I’m growing nervous that if the center-Left doesn’t get its act together we’re even more fucked than we might be otherwise.

Remember, all the CPAC cocksuckers need is to get their golden orange god (or someone like him) elected ONE MORE TIME and that’s it. We live in an autocracy for the rest of my life.

We’re fucked. We’re all so totally fucked.

Half-Assed Review: ‘Greenland’ & The 10,000 Year Old Story

by Shelt Garner

I went into “Greenland” blind. As it opened, I thought maybe it would pass what I call the “10,000 year old story” test. This is the following test: could this story be told in some form 10,000 years ago?

It, at first, passes the test.

Man comes back from the hunt. Has problems with his wife. His kid is sick. The world is changing and the story is about how he protects his family in the context of that change.

Then things went crazy with “Greenland.”

The story was soooo contrived and leaned so heavily on zombie movie tropes (even without zombies) that I couldn’t bear to finish watching. Here’s what I would have done:

Greenland SHOULD have been about:

Act I
The lead up. At the end of the first act, the world ends and our Hero is now living underground inside Greenland.

Act 2
Hero and family have to get used to living in this new world.

Midpoint: His son, now an adult — rebels against the strict rules of under-Greenland meant to keep humanity alive (or something)

All is Lost:
His is exiled onto the Aboveland

Third Act
Hero and wife go searching for son.

They go through some adventures but finally discover him.

Turns out, the surface, while a struggle to survive on, is beginning to recover.

Our hero becomes the leader of Aboveland.

Or something.

But the Greenland I saw was a good movie…but not my kind of movie. Way, way, WAY too contrived.

Ava: A Half-Assed, Partial Review

by Shelt Garner

Yet again I tried to watch a movie and stopped at just about the inciting incident. I do this all the fucking time. This time, it was with the movie Ava. The issue with this movie, the reason why I stopped watching it so early, is I just didn’t care about the characters.

And, in a sense, it was very bland.

It’s structure, at least, was very cookie cutter. What’s so wild is how another, similar movie, Atomic Blonde, pulled me in right away with almost no backstory. Within moments of Atomic Blonde starting, I was hooked. I wanted to see what happened to the characters.

But with Ava…meh.

It just seemed like a rote tale that went by the numbers. So much so that I realized it would be a waste of time to keep watching it and stopped. There were a few character touches that I appreciated, but overall the actual story was blah, blah, blah, I’ve seen it all before.

Dreaming Of Hollywood: My Storytelling Ability Has Gotten A Lot Better

by Shelt Garner

Even though I’m really old relative to most people who want to break into Hollywood via screenwriting, I do, at times, have a larger-than-life personality. Especially when I’m liquored up.

So, at times, I find himself wondering if I could replicate my “fame” in the Seoul expat community somewhere actually important like NYC or LA. While I love NYC, I suspect that given the more fluid nature of LA life (specifically how much of the place revolves around storytelling) I might find success there easier than NYC.

The novel I’m working on is going really, really well. It’s still a huge amount of work, but it’s a lot of fun.

I continue to think about at least three screenplays that deal with Big Ideas in an entertaining fashion. But, as I keep saying, actually buying FinalDraft would be the end of the beginning of the process, not the beginning. I refuse to buy FinalDraft if I can’t immediately sit down and start writing a screenplay.

With that in mind, I need to start reading screenplays and watching more movies. I’m so wrapped up in developing and writing the novel, that I really live in a content bubble right now.

Anyway. Something’s gotta give. I’m not going to live forever and I really want a second creative “tract.”

But I really want to finish this novel.

It’s The Human Element Of Screenwriting That Appeals To Me

by Shelt Garner

By pretty much any metric I’m a failure and a loser. But there is one metric under which I excel — if you get me liquored up at a cocktail party I usually chat up the best looking woman in the room and start some pretty thought-provoking conversations about a wide-ranging series of topics.

Now, let me stress, I’m well aware that every drunk is the “funniest guy in the room” but it does appear from my time in Seoul that I actually was extremely interesting in that specific situation.

With that in mind, I find myself this New Year’s Eve mulling tipping my toe into screenwriting because I’ve reached a pretty stable point in the development of the novel I’m working on and need the rush of a big, new creative “track” to keep things interesting as I plunge into writing a serious first draft of this novel that won’t, at last, embarrass me.

I have specific conditions going forward towards my ultimate goal — hitting the pavement in LA at some point to see if I can sell a script. My biggest self-imposed condition is I have to have three completed scripts before I’ll do any such harebrained thing.

I listen to the “Script Notes” podcast and realize — oh boy — how cutthroat the screenwriting business is even if you’ve actually gone the traditional route and are, like, a normal human being. I’m about 20 years too old to be doing any of this, but I’m creative and — under the right conditions — reasonably charismatic.

So, I know if the issue is more a matter of how personable I can be in a social setting rather than my age or experience, that I have a decent shot at getting a lot closer to selling a script than you might think. I love to talk and tell stories and if I actually have a few scripts to hand someone given the opportunity, then, well, who knows.

But I have to have paper. I have to have actual completed scripts to hand to people. And that’s going to take work and, most of all, time. I’m hoping there might be some cross-pollination between the novel track and the screenplay track. One will help me look at the other in a different way.

My main focus will continue to be, of course, the novel. I guess, however, that I feel enough self-confidence that things are pretty stable on that front that I can turn my attention to a second “track.”

I just wish I wasn’t so fucking old.

If I Had A Screenwriting Passion Project, This Would Be It: The Trapped Man Of Babie Doły

by Shelt Garner

Something about this story evokes such horror in me that I think it would be a great, great movie — or maybe Stephen King novel. And it’s real. It’s fucking real. It really happened. I could see it as a spiritual successor to The Shawshank Redemption.

In 1951 a German soldier was found alive after being trapped with five comrades following the dynamiting of their underground storehouse in 1945. They are believed to have been looting the storehouse and the retreating soldiers who dynamited the tunnel did not know they were there. The stores contained a large amount of food, drink, candles and other goods so the soldiers were able to survive. Four of the soldiers died (Two suicides soon after being trapped, two unknown causes) leaving only two survivors. One of them suffered a heart attack and died upon leaving the tunnel.[2][3][4] The final soldier was said to have made a full recovery, but his identity was never revealed.[5] — Wikipedia.

Review: Exposition, Thy Name Is ‘Tenet’

by Shelt Garner

I am a very harsh critic of movies. I am known to walk out of movies the moment I feel they’re not working. So, in a sense, Tenet got the ultimate honor from me — I stuck around to see how it ended.

The issue for me about Tenet was it was an excellent premise with a piss-poor implementation. I say this specifically because virtually all the dialog is exposition. And there’s very little character development. I struggled to care about these characters. In fact, the only reason why I cared about anything that took place was the premise was so intriguing that I wanted to see how it ultimately was wrapped up.

I did love the movie’s cinematography. It was Oscar-worthy it was so good. That was another thing the movie had going for it during the otherwise interminable exposition — I loved how the movie looked.

It was interesting that the inciting incident happened in the first scene. Why this is important is if Christopher Nolan had gone with a more traditional structure for the movie, then maybe there could have been more character development. Then when the action started, I would have had some sense of the characters and cared one way or another what happened to them.

I understand Nolan’s vision — he wanted to make a really thought provoking movie. And he did. The movie IS really thought provoking. The only problem is, at least for me, is the movie would have been far more grounded if it was a bit more traditional. I think, maybe, the problem was a screenplay. Not only is much of the screenplay consumed by exposition, but what exposition there is is extremely confusing to the point of being unintelligible.

As a person writing a novel, I found myself thinking up a way not only to explain what was going on better, but to do so in a way that gave me time to have actual dialog. This problem of dialog-as-exposition was so bad that the movie went from really interesting, innovative action set pieces to going to a stand still so people could explain the movie to us. It was just really dull. And not in a 2001-dull-but-brilliant way, either. It was just dull. There were so many other ways that exposition could have been presented that would have made the movie far more engaging and accessible.

It’s as if Nolan studied Inception and decided what made that movie popular was audiences enjoying trying to figuring what was going on. There are plenty of ways the movie could have been more straightforward and still have been just as intriguing AND would have entertained audiences. Just because you jumbled up a movie’s conceit, doesn’t mean it’s “smart.” It’s just really irritating because you’re making the audience think far more than is necessary.

I think I’m being a little too snobbish because I’m writing a novel and I want it to be really, really, really accessible, so when someone like Nolan goes out of his way to do the opposite it grates on my nerves.

I have to give a shout out to Elizabeth Debick’s “pins” as the Brits would say. It was amusing that the producers went WAAAAY out of their way to feature those sky high legs of hers. She’s a real stunner.

In general, Tenet was a good movie and I recommend it. I just feel as though it was something of a miss opportunity. It could have been a whole lot better if they had simply followed traditional storytelling conventions.

High Concept: ‘Chernobyl’ Meets ‘Arrival’

by Shelt Garner

I have had this idea for a movie or novel rolling around in my mind for a least a decade. It probably would be done best as a high concept film because to do it as a novel would simply way, way, way too long because of all research required.

The idea is this: what if aliens arrived and gave us a pretty astonishing opportunity, but with a catch: humanity would have to work together.

Now, it’s a well-worn trope that the world, given such an opportunity would unite. But, lulz, that’s bullshit. (I think the movie “Arrival” actually uses this concept some.)

Anyway, I love the HBO series “Chernobyl” and it seems like that time of life-or-death tone would be perfect for such a movie. I like the idea that the audience would know the aliens are asking all of humanity an existential question and the drama comes with how badly we fail at this particular test every step of the way. (Though, hopefully, in the end we would get or shit together.)

This movie would be very deep and fill the audience with dread, just like Chernobyl. I would write the screenplay myself, but not only am I working on a novel, I have a different concept for my first screenplay, should I ever get around to writing one.

The Problem With Star Wars

by Shelt Garner

I beginning the process of writing a screenplay as something of a creative “Plan B” and I am using the original Star Wars screenplay as my “textbook.” The interesting thing is, I find myself worrying if I can use its character concepts and structure beat-for-beat now or not. Is it even possible to have a traditional Hero-saves-the-princess type story in the modern media environment?

This gets me thinking about the clusterfuck that is the state of the Star Wars franchise. Now, let me begin by saying, I honestly don’t know how much of this problem is “real” and how much of it is the Russians testing out new ratfucking strategies. I say this because I’m not really the fanbase of the franchise. I love the first two original movies and all the rest of them I can take or leave.

It is easy to accept the narrative that the Star Wars fanbase is male and the executives at Disney — specifically Kathleen Kennedy — are all woke feminists who want to cram their ideology down the throats of the misogynistic fanboys.

I simply don’t think things are that cut and dried.

The whole thing, in fact, is extremely murky and and open to a whole lot of different interpretations. The reason for this is Star Wars is such a potent cultural force — and a lucrative one to boot — that the whole thing is being torn in a number of different directions for a number of different reasons.

I’m not going to play Joe Rogan and try to square the circle in some hyper masculine, yet earnest way. Sometimes, you have to actually have an opinion and own it.

With that in mind, I would say, the problem with Star Wars is, at its core, an issue with storytelling. If Disney would simply go back to storytelling basics, then a lot of the problems the franchise has would be solved. Of course, even the “basics” of storytelling are loaded in this era of Woke Hollywood. I’m of the opinion that if you simply tell a good story, the audience will follow.

As such, maybe Disney needs to lay off trying to sell toys or use the culture significance of Star Wars to change the world. Maybe start a new Star Wars trilogy that is all fan service.

Though, I will note that the more I think about it, the more there’s one specific issue that is causing all these problems for Disney when it comes to Star Wars — they don’t have one, specific visionary to guide it into the future. They have J.J. Abrams, but he just doesn’t seem like a fan of the series.

If I could wave a magic wand, I would give Kevin Smith a three picture deal to fix Star Wars. He’s a huge fan and probably has a good sense of what the fanbase is looking for.

Anyway, I don’t really have any skin in this battle. Star Wars has always suffered from a problem with a consistency of tone. It’s just sad that the problems — be they real or not — are apparently intractable and unlikely to be solved any time soon, if ever.