Perseveration of Design

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  • Perseveration of Design

    OK, let's try this again and see if it gets less idiotic.

    OK, I've posted about the insanity of letting critical concepts interfere with creativity...and sneered at jargon and phrases people make up and others accept. So I'm going to address that a little more formally...and create a jargon phrase of my own. Just as valid as "unity of event", I'd say.



    As design and technology progress--and concepts are very much a part of design and also products of design--it is inevitable that certain elements and concepts get discarded as new ones are adopted. But sometimes you see examples of old, completely useless design parameters hanging on out of intertia. Some might see an example of that in officials in a determinedly non-religious state swearing court witnesses in on the word of "God". One of my favorite examples was the design of the common 35mm SLR film camera during the height of its popularity and sales.

    When the SLR first appeared in the thirties and forties, it fell into a common-sense German design that we are familiar with. The lens, shutter and film are all necessary elements and have certain restrictions on their size and relative position to each other. But there was another consideration: the thing had to be machined out of steel. So it shows that machinist mentality in it's design, like the automatic pistol design from the twenties that is still with us today. But at some point they started making cameras out of plastic. At which point, they could just as cheaply be molded into any shape. In fact, Olympus brought out an SLR shaped like a beercan. You grabbed it an raised it to your eye just like drinking a beer or looking into a monocular. All controls were at the fingertips, giving one-hand operation. The wrist was in a natural position, not the contortions necessary to hold the old type of SLR. The design was brilliant and evolutionarily superior in every way. It didn't sell very well. The old machined design stuck around. This could have been because of designers, or because of customers brainwashed into what they think a camera should look like. But the point is, the old, inefficient, needless design stayed around. (Of course digital cameras came along and made most of the original design restrictions obsolete...but most digital cams still look like old viewfinder cameras.)

    The upshot is that people are buying and using cameras that could be much better designed, but aren't because they end up looking like old designs influenced by outdated ideas of structure, function, and manufacture. Look around and you will see examples of this in less physical concepts: in our "software" design as well as "hardware". The vestigial artifacts you see (and the eternal principles you know will never change) will not be the same ones your neighbor sees.

    Sometimes this sort of anachronism is harmless. We call streaming music programs from the internet "radio", though it obviously isn't. We think of Dan Rather as having something to do with a "press". But sometimes using this perseverated terminology does become a problem. It creates Myths. I'm not using that term to describe Greek Gods, or the more common modern corruption as synonymous with "lies" or "disinformation", but in the technical sense of expressing information about one field of knowledge in the terminology of another. (Creation myths, for instance, discuss cosmology in terms of agricultural or family dynamic concepts.) A good example of this use of the term...and the hazards it can create...is Thomas Szasz' book "The Myth of Mental Illness". By couching mental and emotional problems in the language of "disease", we limit our understanding and worse, tend to take medical means to deal with it...giving us lobotomies and "therapy" by means of pills.

    Which, taken as a hifalutin introduction, is overkill to something that should be obvious...that taking concepts forged for the theater into the realm of motion pictures can have some pitfalls. If a critic refers to actions "beyond the proscenium" we know they are using a metaphor, and what they are talking about. When somebody refers to "acts" of a movie...are we so sure?

    There are a lot of myths (in the sense of propoganda and commonly accepted illusions) about theater versus movies. A common one is that stage actors are "real" actors and much better than movie actors. Well, maybe on stage they are. They can project their voices, move well in broad gesture, upstage others, etc. But can they handle an extremely emotional close-up? Examined objectively you end up coming to the conclusion that movie actors are much better at what so many of us think of as acting...emotional portrayal, facial innuendo, tears, tremors. AND, a guy like Mel Gibson is every bit as good at physical movement as some stage icon like Barrymore or O'Toole or whoever.

    So why is it assumed that "three act structure" would have so much to do with making a movie? The restrictions of stage and time are gone...replaced with other restrictions that require their own solutions and vocabulary. ("Vocabulary" in the sense of a response set, not necessarily more jargon.) Some of these restrictions are really bizarre by stage standards. As a simple instance...you can't just paint a flat for the ocean or a stadium full of people...you have to actually go to the ocean or hire a bunch of extras. Digital film is changing that...and creating an entire new paradigm in which many of the realities of movies will change once again. The point is...slaving one's mind and creative process to outdated, and even mythical "rules" and "realities" is debilitating.

    To return to the example of the camera...the makers are trapped in oldtimey design. But users are still being taught things like "how to hold a camera" that apply only to the proto-tech cameras. As soon as somebody brings out an ergometric camera, that all goes out the window. And so does a lot of other stuff like shutter speed holds. The development of 1600 ASA film makes tripods almost useless...but you see people using them because they look cool or read a book recommending it. (What they do mostly is cause your camera to get knocked over and break). This affects the whole way people shoot. There are currently websites devoted to pictures taken with telephones. How much of what you learned in your "35mm SLR 101" course are going to help you there?

    But of course, rules of composition still apply to the finished product. (Though, they change, too. The advent of wide-angle lenses changed compositional thinking to an extent: a fisheye lens lays down its own compositional rules with an iron hand.) So let's dig a little deeper, into the old dramatic elements of story itself. Surely those rules still apply? Or do they? You still have a protagonist and antagonist, right? Except some films don't seem to (or some plays, anymore) and often nobody can agree on who the protagonist is and the writer isn't interested in the issue.

    But if that element of Greek drama analysis must stand forever, what about others. Do we still need a nemesis? In a romantic comedy? What about hubris? The Greeks had a pretty different view of the universe thann we did. It's one reason all their heros turn out to be tragic. The very IDEA of a hero in Greek drama involves a violation of the rules of God and Man. You start getting goddish and you end up getting turned into a spider of killing your mother or some such. No concept could me more inimical with modern American dramatic thought, in which then hero is almost always bucking the system. Furthermore, you don't have to go that far back...our attitudes about the Cosmos and society are very different from the attitude of the 1940's. As they are different from Chinese ideas on the subject. This might not even be evolutionary: there might be a time when the current mythos of individualism, state/god source of evil, shock value, underdoggism, and egoism might be looked back on as an aberration that got straightened out when the baby boomers finally died off. You never know.

    Now how about "catharsis"? Is that still valid? And in fact, is it still practiced? When was the last time you heard the word? But it was EXTREMELY important to the Classical dramatic theory. You still hear "If there's a gun over the mantel in the first act, it has to go off in the third act". Well, nowadays that artifact of the claustrophic closure of the stage world gets ignored a lot...but you hear it. Why don't you hear about catharsis...essentially, "If you raise an emotion, you have to discharge and gratify it?" Because it's a concept that is outdated (in the industry...not to me) and even antithetical to current vogues. The first time I noticed it was "Death Wish 3". The emotions raised by the violent rape of the maid were just too ugly to be catharted by the rapists getting a nice clean death. You walk out of the theater wanting to go shoot down creeps on the street. This wasn't an accident, wasn't a flaw...it was an underlying point of the movie. Nowadays, makers WANT people walking out of the theater bubbling over with undischarged emotion. "Feelgoodism" is ridiculed. "Wrapping things up in a neat little bow" is declasse. The opposite of catharsis is, essentially, propoganda. And propoganda is an accepted, desired part of modern drama. Films should "make a point", should "take a stand", should leave a residue.

    So the point of this...or one point among several...is that citing "the golden rules of drama" laid down by past masters" and enshrined on altars is not all that productive, and can be counter productive. What it comes down to, and more than at any previous point in history, is the need to sort these things out and take what works and discard the rest. Which is in itself an indiviual creative act. It may be good to have heard of these concepts (although there are a lot of foreign films and punk films and such being made by people who have never heard of them) but it is extremely unwise to be enslaved by them. The point of self expression is exactly that. There are plenty of "rules" out there in the perceptions of the audience, the social milieu, the credibility of behavior without spending money to go to school to get short-circuited by conceptual design that might in now way apply to you.

  • #2
    Come on, Latrine, you've made your point. You have little respect for theories/opinions on this board. Why should we respect your posts. You've spoken out to be an innovator. Telling us that we got it all wrong. Let's see your pages. Let's see your resume. Prove it out. Otherwise, you're just talking @#%$ like everyone else.

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    • #3
      Too much lame.

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      • #4
        Your arguments are based on faulty premises.

        The idea that school/study of one's craft impairs one creativity and their ability to master their craft is illogical.

        The argument against the use of acts because of the lack of curtain breaks for set changes is ludicrous because that is not what an act change is. But we have covered that very well in other threads.

        Your definition of a "hero" is contradictory to the one given by Aristotle and by the definitions used by Campbell, Propp, Egri, Price and countless other recognized masters of dramatic criticism and theory. It seems to be an invention of your own to prove your point.

        Just because you chose to not see a protagonist or view films and plays as not having a protagonist does not mean there is not one.

        I have no problem with choosing to not see a protagonist and choosing not to believe in the necessity of acts or to think a hero is defined by whatever standards you chose to use. There is certainly more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in my philosophy and you are welcome to see the world anyway you chose if it inspires you to create.

        But it's not the world I live in and it isn't the world most people working in HW live in. If you want to do business with HW you have to develop the ability to see the world like they do and communicate like they do, even if that is not the world and language you use for creating your stories it must be what you use to sell and work in HW.

        When in Rome...

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        • #5
          Perseveration of Design

          The end of ''Feelgoodism'' No! Please say it isn't so?

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          • #6
            You meed to get a couple of sales under your belt to establish credibility, then publish your "how to write modern screenplays" book. Until then, this is a collection of zingless metaphors lost among too much black. PASS.

            -Derek
            My Web Page - naked women, bestial sex, and whopping big lies.

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            • #7
              By the way

              From another board...

              he definitely came in like the guy who stomps into a bar, downs a pitcher of beer (from the pitcher) and then breaks said pitcher on his forehead before belching, "now... which one of you faggots are ready to get your face kicked in?"
              Forget what this is in referenace to, class, but this is a great exampled of making a strong enterance in a screenplay. Imagine a character doing this? Tells you everything you need to know. Not "he angrily walked in with an ax to grind." Show don't tell.

              Then we get to see how people, hopefully our protagonist, will react. It's the essence of what makes for a great scene.

              That's your lesson for today. You may now return to the playground.

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              • #8
                Re: By the way

                actually, that is more an example of a cliched entrance, but whatever...




                /walks back to the swings...

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                • #9
                  I asked

                  I don't need to see El's pages. I'd just like to hear if he has ever typed between Fade in and Fade out and if it worked for him.

                  Then what happened when he showed that script to anyone.

                  Ever curious.

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                  • #10
                    Re: screenwritin'

                    actually, that is more an example of a cliched enterance, but whatever...
                    ouch.

                    /crawls away

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                    • #11
                      Re: By the way

                      With all the reverence for three-act structure and theory around here, how come we still see Done Deal Members arguing about where the 1st-2nd-3rd act breaks are in particular films? Heck, we're separated in two camps over who's the protag in "Shawshank."

                      And, you know what that tells me? In successful films, the theory is so seamlessly woven in, it's not obvious where the act breaks fall.

                      Catrin: I see some of your points but the truth is, no matter how you mix it up, a story has a beginning, middle and end.

                      Add to that, unless you have the means to make your own film, if you want to sell a script to HW, it has to have a beginning, middle and end.

                      However, I do see that in many films, the dogmatic approach to 3-act structure - - i.e. act one ends on this page, midpoint is on that page - - makes the structure so damn obvious they may have well used Scene Cards in supers.

                      But this harkens back to your example about cameras - - the mainstream audience, the end user - - prefers something familiar. You can write and even make a film breaking all the theory rules, but know it will have a small audience.

                      In general: I don't undrstand why someone has to back up their opinions by showing us their script pages. If that's the case, why hasn't Deus been asked to post pages which "prove" his opinions about theory?

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                      • #12
                        Re: By the way

                        Catrin:

                        Again, how many screenwriting books have you read?

                        Again, in a screenplay, where does the beginning end, and where does the end begin?

                        Again, if we're not supposed to talk in theory, how are we supposed to talk about what we write?

                        This time, try answering. I don't mind the name calling, but at least back it up with actual answers to my questions. Otherwise it will be clear that you don't have any answers. It's already clear that you don't understand three act structure.

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                        • #13
                          Re: By the way

                          I find this all quite stimulating as far as healthy debate goes but at the same time we can theorise and anti theorise up or own $$$$$. If you don't got a good story you don't got nutin', and it don't matter a damn how pretty you set it out.

                          But if you have got a good story and you genuinely want to see it up there then why destroy it before it has a chance by presenting it to the studio you're hoping are going to put 20 mill plus into it, in a way that they neither understand or trust. Sounding off is fine Catrin, and you raise many good points but if you want to make a living at this I'd go with the flow a little more. You don't see 'beer can' cameras for a reason.


                          Let's face it if we truly wanted just to be artists we'd write poetry. This is a billion dollar business and by nature big business is conservative. Them's the breaks.

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                          • #14
                            screenwritin'

                            Yay! Another new poster that wants to tear the old system down and replace it with a new system of their own divising.

                            Same song, new singer.

                            and to use Deathwish as any kind of example for story telling is just laughable.

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                            • #15
                              Re: screenwritin'

                              what's wrong with death wish? death wish 3, okay. but death wish? charlie bronson at his best, despite the pro-vigilantism perspective of the film.

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