Friday, February 28, 2014

February 2014 Book Review

As you know I’ve been busy reading film scripts and books on crafting a good screenplay, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to squeeze in some fun reading where I can. 

I’m slowly working my way through an excellent English translation of the novel “The Time Regulation Institute”  by Turkish author Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar. However that’s not ready for review yet. In recent months I’ve also discovered some new comic books. Well, new to me as they are only just now coming out in English translations.

These are the “Blake and Mortimer” comic books and the reason I was drawn to trying them out is because the author was a close relation - and collaborator - to famed Tintin author Hergé. Tintin has been read and reread many times in my house. There is something about those stories that makes them very compelling. 

So, I thought I’d give Mr. Edgar P. Jacobs and his books a try. I wasn’t disappointed. Though he’s a little more serious than Hergé, and a bit more wordy, his stories do appeal in a way similar to Tintin. 

Our main characters are Captain Blake, dashing British agent of MI5, and his best friend, nuclear physicist, Professor Mortimer. They are intelligent, open minded and up for any adventure. Where Hergé just stays within the realm of reality, Jacobs takes us in a different direction. Some of his stories accept magical realism more readily, such as in “The Mystery of the Great Pyramid” or “The Atlantis Mystery”, where others show us a world with an alternate history where the conflict of World War II is different. In the trilogy “The Secret of the Swordfish” we’re shown what the world might look like if China had been the main aggressor in WWII, seeking and claiming world domination. 

It’s an interesting premise and alternative exploration of war and peace. In particular too the designs for the swordfish weapon show that Jacobs learned much from his mentor. 

The drawings are very reminiscent of Tintin and show Jacobs to be an accomplished artist. The story lines are imaginative and suspenseful, though some of the relationships show the time they were written in. There is a truly villainous bad guy, in the form of adventurer and soldier of fortune, Olrik, which adds imaginative complications to each story. The only negatives I find is that the stories are a bit wordy, with extraneous explanations, but I’m not sure if that’s true for the originals as well or if it’s caused by the translator needing more words. In general the translations could do with a bit of polishing and some of the words chosen seem archaic, and could have been updated without loss of context. Maybe some day I’ll look for a few in the original French to see how Jacobs actually wrote them.

All in all, I recommend these books for a lazy Sunday afternoon when you’re in the mood for some adventure, but don’t want to leave your comfy couch. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Almost tripped, but hanging on

Here I was happily working away on yet another tight deadline translation - why they always have to be done so quickly I don’t know - and then I started to stumble on some words. 

They looked oddly familiar, but weren’t. Even my trusty translation app or online dictionaries didn’t know them. And they weren’t exactly tough scientific words, they were much more simple than that. 

Finally I realized why they looked familiar. They were English words but masquerading as Dutch; a few new letters stuck to the word and now it was normal Dutch. I found it a bit disorienting. 

Although it was a good lesson in realizing that language is a living thing; it changes almost with each generation. A language that gets used and mingles with words from other languages, more so in our hyper-connected world, is bound to change and evolve. 

For example, when I first arrived in the US the word “impact” was rarely used as a verb, but now its use as a verb is very common. When I proof read an essay for some high school students on the robotics team I happened to mention this. The kids reacted shocked. To them “impact” was both a verb and an adjective and they were very comfortable using it as a verb. 

But I could still clearly remember the delicate rant a coworker, with a passion for language in its purer forms, went on some twenty years ago. Consequently I’ve been very careful in my use of the word ‘impact’. 

To the teenagers I interact with a sentence like: “His has impacted the situation...” is very normal.
They’re less likely to say the sentence in this way: “His actions have had an impact on the situation ....” 

I feel I’m on somewhat shaky ground as I'll always consider myself a student of language, but I do pick up a thing or two, and listen when those who know grammar tell me their tale of woe when they see changes happening to their language (on either side of the Atlantic). But truly, language is a living thing and change is inevitable in life. The unique character is bound to remain in any language, despite change.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Screenwriting Week 4

Back to the drawing board, and again, and again.

The challenge of writing-for-hire is figuring out exactly what your client wants to say. What’s really necessary for the story, what is just wishful thinking on the client’s part and what just will not work? 

And then, there are the late night phone calls with new ideas or wholesale changes. I’ve learned to keep my phone and my notebook and pen handy at all times.

What strikes me in this collaborative process is that we discard ideas and change our minds just as much as if I were the only one working on a project. It just feels different because I’m working on a for-hire basis, which means my creativity must link to another’s and I can’t get personally attached to what I’ve written, because it’s not my story. 

When I’m writing one of my stories or books my delete key gets used just as much as with this one, but it feels different. When I write, for me, ideas get discarded or resurrected at random as the story progresses and changes. But when someone else is controlling the story, I realize I need to keep my ego out of the process. 

So where are we in the process? Have I started the actual screenplay yet? Not quite. We’re on version 3 of the outline. But we’ve hashed out a fair amount of information and I’ve done research on our subject matter. Again, I can’t tell you what it’s about, much as I would like to because I think this is a story that could benefit from a greater collaboration. I anticipate that at some point in the future I will be able to open it up to discussion and input so that we end up with a stellar product, but not just yet. 

In the meantime, I’ll keep working and learning. And reading screenplays to see how others have done it. As I mentioned I’ve been reading the script for “Inception” and it was a relief to learn that the director and writer, Christopher Nolan, took ten years to get it just right. I don’t think my client wants us to take that long though!