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4 Reasons Why Movies Should Lose the 4th D

This is a guest post. Stephanie Cable is a movie and pop culture nerd from Salt Lake City and writes regularly for CableTV.com.

Thanks to the technological boom of past decade, Americans are nowaccustomed to constant stimulation. We can have the Internet at our fingertips 24/7 through our tablets, e-readers, smartphones and iPods. When we want to relax, we turn on our 3-D and HD TVS, play our high- tech video games, or go see an IMAX and/or 3-D movie. It is no surprise that the CJ Group plans to take the stimulation to the next level by opening over 200 4-D movie theaters in the U.S. over the next few years.

While we like our stimulation, this new movie experience may be taking it a bit too far. As Americans, westill love a good bargain, our freedom and our movie snacks. This new movie experience hinges on those factors in a big way. Here’s a breakdown as to why our movies are better off without the 4th D.

Cost

The average price for a family of four to attend a movie without refreshments is now a whopping $32. If the movie is in 3-D add another $3-$5 for each person. A 4-D feature requires as much as an additional $8 a person. That brings the cost for an average family of four to nearly $70 to see one movie. Going to the movies went from a weekly family tradition to a luxury about 15 years ago. If 4-D movies with their hefty price tag become the norm, families will be lucky to see a show once or twice a year!

Liability

Like it or not, we are a sue-happy country; remember the lady who won thousands of dollars for her hot coffee beverage being too hot? These 4-D movies are lawsuit heaven for greedy Americans. A scented mist that bothers someone’s allergies, a back tickle so rough it caused an injury, a strobe light that caused a seizure, a loud sound that caused someone to jump and the list continues. Not to mention the countless racket of people screaming “I’m gonna’ sue!” throughout the entire film. Not how I want to enjoy my $20 feature.

Concession Interruption

Part of the fun of going to the movies for most Americans is grabbing a favorite snack. Whether it’s buttered popcorn, candy, pretzel bites, ice cream or nachos, the stands now have something for everyone. Of course, the snack must also be paired with your favorite beverage to make it complete.The 4-D movie experience will totally take the joy out of this yummy tradition. When you eat something, especially something as indulgent as a movie snack, you utilize all of your senses. The same senses that the 4-D experience also wants to stimulate. Picture this: You are ready to take a sip of your icy cola or piping hot coffee and your seat starts to shake; causing you to spill your drink all over yourself and the person next to you. Or, you are ready to take a big bite of that delicious smelling buttery popcorn (that you just paid $10 for) and the theater suddenly begins to smell of dog poop, making you totally lose your appetite—both for your snacks and the film.

Sensory freedom

4-dimensional movie experience--peww

With the recent technological boom and the monotony of the daily grind, most of us find little opportunity to use our imagination. I enjoy the rare chance, while taking in a movie, to imagine for myself what it feels like to be in that racing car, or smell the pie sitting in the window, or experience a cold splash of water in my face. I don’t think I want to sit numbly while all these experiences are stimulated for me. It’s no wonder we’ve adapted a new obsession for zombies.

Call me old-fashioned, but all I need for a great night at the movies is a dark theater an interesting plot, a delicious tub of popcorn, a cold beverage, and a cushioned chair. If I want a ride this wild (and costly,) I’ll head to an amusement park, which just may be where the 4-D experience belongs.

 



New WordPress Theme!

What do you think?

After a whole lot of looking, I couldn’t find a theme that was both responsive and had three columns, and locked one of those columns to the width of ads. Best workaround I could figure out was using @media every 100 pixels to approximate the behavior I wanted. Not responsive, per se, but it works.

Didn’t have huge problems with IE this time. (Why must every web site take a long time, and then take twice as long to get it to work the same way in IE? When can we finally just get everyone in the world to stop using that browser?) Just had double scrollbars showing up, which went away when I changed min-height to height. Who knew?

Anyway, it feels like cheating, but this seemed like the best way to approximate the behavior I was looking for. If anyone has found better solutions, let us know!



Top 8 Films To Watch in a Kickass Home Theater

This is a guest post from Brandi Tolleson, who is a technology and gadget product reviewer, as well as a tasteful lover of great films.

As the Blu-ray library continues to expand, finding the right films to express the full power of your home theater can be a difficult decision, but the following titles have been recommended by audio/video experts in terms of their fantastic picture and sound quality, making them great choices to burn onto a blank BD-R:

1.    Avatar (2009)
James Cameron’s visually stunning sci-fi fantasy flick offers one of the best ways to showcase your home theater with its mesmerizing and immersive CGI effects. It doesn’t slouch on the sound, either, as the world of the Na’vi comes to life in perfect clarity. Best of all, the 3D version is of the highest quality for the home market.

2.    Toy Story 3 (2010)
Pixar animations as a whole are Blu-ray must-haves, as their fantastic CGI produces a picture quality unlike anything seen on DVD. The bright and colorful world of Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang has never looked or sounded better. The 3D version especially shines, and is considered by some reviewers to be the best 3D title of 2011.

3.    The Dark Knight (2008)
If you only own one action movie, then this superhero masterpiece by Christopher Nolan should be your choice due to its lifelike detail and fantastic story. The dark and dreary city of Gotham looks perfect, and the audio features really aggressive bass that is sure to impress your guests when played on a quality sound system.

4.    Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy has never looked better, and while the entire trilogy is stunning on Blu-ray, the third has transferred with especially high quality. Everything from the wondrous city of Gondor to the nightmarish plains of Mordor is shown in vivid detail. Prepare to be stunned by the sound as well; from thundering battles to the softest whisper.

5.    Casino Royale (2006)
Animation and fantasy titles aren’t the only films worth burning onto a blank BD-R, as this critically-acclaimed James Bond action thriller features theater-quality detail in both its black-and-white and color moments. The audio is especially impressive, as the tonal quality of the film’s soundtrack as well as its dynamic action sequences is clear and balanced.

6.    2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
While it’s strange to see a classic make this list, Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking sci-fi film was originally projected onto enormous curved screens, which is why he chose a crisp look for its cinematography. Needless to say, these choices have made the Blu-ray version look fantastic and nearly identical to its theatrical release.

7.    Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Tim Burton has always thrilled audiences with his macabre yet comic storytelling, and this retelling of Stephen Sondheim’s gory musical looks wondrously dark in Blu-ray format. The audio is also strong, allowing your guests to become immersed in the dreary crowds of London as well enthralled by Johnny Depp and Helana Bonham Carter’s memorable vocal performances.

8.    Baraka (1992)
Although a documentary about human civilization told only with images seems like a bizarre choice for home theaters owners, this film is considered by videophiles to be the apex of Blu-ray picture quality, with images so clear and vivid that you will swear that they are right in your home.

 



Screenwriting Tool: The Character Board

Getting from the initial germ of an idea to 100 pages of properly formatted screenplay is no small feat.  We all have our tricks and tools that help us keep momentum and organize our thoughts along the journey: outlines, note cards, etc.  One of mine I’d like to share with you today is a Character Board.

In early stages of pitching to a client, I’ve seen advertising agencies use a mood board.  It’s a collection of images that convey the tone of an idea in a way that words would not.  (Quick!  Describe the Mona Lisa‘s smile!  Wouldn’t a photo do a much better job?)

A Character Board works like that. Write  the names of each of your major characters, nice and big.  Optionally, add a phrase or two of description, perhaps a profession or defining personality quirk.  Now, next to each, include a picture to represent each character.

Where do you get the pictures?  Anywhere.  Clip people out of magazines.  Being someone who does production, I’ve thumbed through stacks of headshots. (I always wonder if the actors would find it flattering or insulting to know that they’re holding a place in my screenplay.)  Probably the most effective technique is to pull images of celebrities off the web.  You can use more than one picture, too.  You might find that three different actors sort of “average out” to the actual core character you’re trying to create.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, and they bring with them nuances that your most thorough descriptions might not.  Pictures of celebrities might be worth more like a million words, since they conjure memories of performances and—fake or otherwise—personalities.  These details start to fill in gaps that your verbal descriptions can’t cover.

This technique is sort of like building a paper machete piñata around a balloon.  If you start with nothing but wet newspaper, you won’t get very far.  But if you build it around a base you can get somewhere.  You’ll take your celebrity pictures away later, like peeling the popped balloon from the center of the piñata, but by then the words will have dried.  (OK, maybe I worked that metaphor too hard.)

Don’t dwell for even a moment about any of the practical realities of casting, producing, or selling your screenplay some day.  That’s a long time from now, and this exercise has almost zero to do with those eventualities.  (Odds are you won’t have any say in them, anyway.)  For now, pretend you’re the most powerful player in Hollywood and can afford anyone you want for every role.  “Cast” the actors who are most right for the part.

You’ll discover things right away, as you start to match faces with names.  Perhaps some of the most valuable insights are about who’s NOT right for the character you’re creating.  For example, I’m doing one right now, and I had pasted web images of Kristin Bell and Mila Kunis into the role of my female protagonist.  But as I placed other characters and massaged the details, I replaced them with Ellie Kemper and Allison Brie.  I learned that while I wanted confidence, wit, and beauty in the character, she doesn’t work without a certain vulnerability and innocence that those latter actors might bring.  This tells me that when I start writing scenes involving these characters, I’ll need to include vulnerability in the dialogue, so that everyone gets that feeling I’m going for.  Pictures got me to that realization.

Final tip: If you spend more than an hour, you’re not writing any more; you’re web surfing.  Just get some placeholder pictures set up for each character, and then get back to laying down words.  You can always make adjustments later, once your words start to tell you more about what your characters should look like.



Not very Muppetational of him…

As much as I’ve been a lifelong fan of the muppets, I’ve never been crazy about their merchandising and guest appearances (aka whoring.)

But this one’s the weirdest, by far.

In case any of you labor under the misapprehension that wrestling is real, this clip should resolve that matter.



When your favorite, long-time bands break up, it means you’re old.

Dear Barenaked Ladies:

R.E.M. was always my favorite band. No offense. It’s just that I met them first. Someone slipped me a tape (yes, a tape) at that exact age that I needed a sound to come along and echo my personality to me. Their music paired masterful instrumentation with poetic lyrics to create a tone filled with just enough glory, protest, and wisdom. They stayed just indie enough to convey a feeling that only I knew them, even once they went huge.

You, BNL, were consistently my second-favorite band of all time. (That’s still pretty good!) Like R.E.M., you tapped into something ethereal, but you chose to reflect humor and witty wordplay. Nice. I screamed along with “Break Your Heart” after each girlfriend.

You’re not as good separately. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work for me. I’m not trying to be rude. I just figure perhaps no one else has been willing to tell you. Steve is nothing without Ed. Ed is nothing without Steve. Nobody wants to hear Tyler sing.

R.E.M. has stopped playing music. Now is your moment to get back together, and swoop in as my all-time favorite. I know you had things happen. Sure, there was cocaine, and probably some artistic differences, and maybe ego battles that, as Canadians, you’ve been too polite to get into. But the iron is hot. I need a new number one. Are you going to let it be U2 or the Indigo Girls, by default? That’s just not right.

My fiancee is a family therapist. I’ll get you a good deal, I promise.



Help me decide. Do I like American Horror Story?

Aha.  So this image was a clue all along...I caught up last night with the first two episodes of American Horror Story.  So strong were my simultaneous positive and negative reactions, I stand at a loss as to how to evaluate it.  I will say this: It has stuck with me.  Every few hours, I find myself googling it, I suppose hoping some uber-blogger will provide a magical insight that helps me process what I’ve seen.  No such luck.

Here’s the gist:  In the aftermath of a miscarriage, a husband cheats on his wife.  In attempt to reconcile, they move with their teenage daughter from Boston to Los Angeles… and into a Murder House.  It has literal demons to compliment their metaphorical ones.

The horror is overblown, and derivative… and compelling.  An episode of AHS tastes like a slice from a cake baked from ingredients borrowed from LOST, Scream, Twin Peaks, and True Blood (the twisting-your-partner’s-head-180-on-her-torso-as-you-sex-her-while-covered-in-blood True Blood.)

Plus, there’s an Extra Ingredient that several reviews have called “psychosexual,” but which you wouldn’t be wrong in labeling “f-ed up.”  You’ve seen sexually threatening ghost-demons before, and you’ve even seen sexually threatening ghost-demons reproducing with humans, but you’ve never seen sexually threatening ghost-demons reproducing with humans while sporting a latex bondage gimp suit.

It’s too light a word to suggest AHS pays homage to numerous classic films. (The score doesn’t just borrow from that of Psycho; they actually licensed the score from Psycho.)  So unabashed is the willingness to mooch from this and that horror movie, and so stong is that f-ed-up Extra Ingredient being added to the recipe, the result somehow comes out feeling new. I guess I don’t care if the ghost story I’m hearing at the camp fire is unoriginal, as long as its being well told.

So that’s what’s bothering me.  Is this being well told?  Or is it a rehash of everything we’ve seen before, with lots of Extra Ingredient splashed throughout?  On one hand, I’m drawn to this show because it’s unlike anything I’ve seen (which is different that calling it original) and I’m excited any time television can offer something new.  Then again, I worry for our society when we’re all so overexposed to storytelling that depravity is the only direction left to explore.  In a world with so many channels that one must shock to stand out, Extra Ingredient can be applied too liberally, blurring the lines between trash, art, and porn.  This morning, Entertainment Weekly gave Human Centipede 2 a B+.

The obvious question is whether the writers can sustain horror-movie tension episode after episode.  And even more in doubt is whether a satisfying conclusion can be reached.  After the blue balls served up by the finale of LOST, are we willing to tolerate being manipulated by AHS?

The creators, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck, also created Glee together, and Murphy was behind Nip/Tuck.  It’s too early to draw conclusions about AHS, but there are commonalities between the other two shows–no matter how different they are otherwise–that might provide hints in what we can expect here.  Both Glee and Nip/Tuck fill their worlds with largely unlikable characters.  Or, at least, those characters can turn on a dime to become unlikable, as long as it serves the tension of a scene.  Exposition and story logic will be tolerated only if they don’t get in the way of the sensational bits.  Camp is to be embraced, and premises are heavy-handedly stretched to their logical extremes.  Character consistency will be happily thrown to the wind if it can set up a song or a surgery, or, I’m guessing, a ghost going boo.

All of which leaves me fearing I will have the same relationship with American Horror Story that I do with Nip/Tuck and Glee: after each episode, I’ll curse myself for having wasted another hour, swear that I’m done with the show for good this time, and tune in the following week.



Comedy monologue for women (20s – 40s): Stare Master

There have been several requests for shorter monologues. So here’s my attempt at something you can perform in about a minute.

I try to be the kind of writer who gives an actor room to play. It’s risky; my writing looks brilliant in the hands of talented thespians, and just okay when done by a performer who thinks through the beats and nuances less. This piece definitely feels like one that could kill, or could muster polite chuckles. Please let me know how it works for you!

Monologues about asses, written for the massesI happen to have an exceptionally exquisite ass.  I’m mentioning this because I happened to notice that you haven’t happened to notice my exceptionally exquisite ass.

And while you probably think that’s somehow very gentlemanly, the fact is that I don’t get up at 5 a.m. every week day, even though I can never fall asleep until after midnight–thanks to my annoying upstairs neighbor talking extra loud to her deaf grandmother every night in Vietnamese–just to make sure I get one of the only two available stairmasters at our crappy local Fit-for-Life–with its crappy one-channel televisions at that hour always playing reruns of Mary Tyler Moore, in Spanish–only to have you refuse to even sneak a glance.

So look at it.  Right now!  See how each hemisphere lifts in these yoga pants, just wonderfully firm but yet still delightfully feminine?  I deserve a good, long checking out.  That’s better. OK.  Enough.  Don’t let’s get pervy, shall we?

Note from the author: If you’re in a situation when the word ‘ass’ is inappropriate, please use ‘bum’ or ‘backside.’ For some reason, to me, using ‘butt’ feels more vulgar in this context than ‘ass’ does, and less cute.

Want to use this piece for an audition? Need to know my name? Want me to create a custom monologue for you? See the monologues page.



Five Tips for Naming Characters

Start with your ABCs.

You want each character in your screenplay to feel as distinct as possible.  A simple way to help with that is to use a different letter of the alphabet for each character. We’ve all had the real-world experience of being one degree removed from someone’s friends, and suddenly confusing names for similar ones.  (“It was her friend Jenn… or Jan? …  June?”)  Mix up the length of names, too. Name your characters Jenn, Jan, and June, and your audience will undoubtedly be more confused than with Jenn, Andie, and Cordelia.

Extra hint: Screenwriting software such as Final Draft or Celtx can have auto-complete functionality, so that if I type ‘c,’ the software fills in ‘Cordelia.’  This is a huge help to keep the typing of dialogue flowing.  It’s such a big deal that when I write a project, I keep a list of letters of the alphabet, and every new character I introduce must be named using one of the remaining letters.

Use a Baby Book.

Try writing down a thousand names, as fast as you can.  You’ll run dry soon.  Switch to naming all the people in your graduating class, and you can knock out a hundred or more very quickly.  Human brains just don’t store information in big lists, accessible when we want.  But baby books do, so consulting one will increase the number of names you can think of a hundredfold or better.

Extra hint: Actually, go with a baby book web site, since it’s searchable (and free!)  My favorite is The Baby Name Wizard, because it’s interactive and displays the relative popularity of a name as you enter it.  Another very helpful resource is the U.S. Social Security Office’s Popular Names Listing, which gives you the top 200 most popular names, in order, by decade.  That can go a long way in giving your script a proper sense of time.

Include Some Unusual Names.

A unique name is the first an easiest thing you can do in creating a unique character.  It can go a long way to lifting a character to potentially iconic status.   Rocky Balboa, Scarlett O’Hara, Indiana Jones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Captain Jack Sparrow, Ace Ventura, Pippi Longstocking, Forrest Gump, Ferris Bueller, Sugar Kane Kowalcyck from Some Like It Hot,  “Ducky” from Sixteen Candles, Barbarella, Sherlock Holmes…  Would any of them have been as compelling or memorable if named ‘Mary’ or ‘Tim?’

Extra hint: Don’t expect the name to do all the work, of course!  Good characters are built much more on likes, dislikes, strengths, and most importantly good old-fashioned flaws.

Don’t Include Too Many Unusual Names.

If you name one of your characters something as unusual as ‘Spock,’ you’d best name his friend something as common as ‘Jim.’ When one or two names are out of the ordinary, they become more memorable. If too many things are out of the ordinary they get muddled together, and become less accessible to the general populace. Very few could name more than a couple of dwarves from The Hobbit.

Extra hint: Nicknames allow you to stretch the rule of thumb here, especially if they are not used by all the characters. If you used up your unusual name on ‘Spock’ you can still add uniqueness with ‘Scotty’ and ‘Bones.’  Nicknames lend a sense of familiarity and likability.  Plus, they’re more memorable.  Sure, you can’t do those hobbit dwarves, but can you name most of Disney’s Seven Dwarves?

Don’t Spend Forever.

While you eventually want your characters’ names to be just right, you don’t need names in place to start writing.  I have blown entire days doing nothing but brainstorming character names, only to still be unhappy with them later.  Screenwriting is a process of months, and something will come to you.

Extra hint: Use a placeholder name that’s easy to find-and-replace with software later. For example, don’t name a character ‘Will’ until you mean it; replacing the name ‘Will’ could mess with every time you’ve used the word ‘will’ in your script.  As a placeholder, you can call your characters things like AAAAA, BBBBB, and XXXXX.  Software won’t get confused later, and you can take full advantage of typing only a letter as you enter dialogue.



Storm of the CENTURY!!!

It’s raining this morning.

Los Angeles is hilarious in the rain.

The local news will run teasers all day.  “What’s with all this rain, and WHEN will it finally END?  Details at 11!”

(To mock evenly, Seattle is the same way about snow.)

People change their plans.  “I know we were supposed to do lunch today, but I don’t know… with all this RAIN….”

You can go to the grocery story during peak hours but there are no lines.

It’s even funnier if the rain happens a second day: “Uhhgh, seriously… Rain AGAIN?!”

I love it.  When in rains in L.A., not only can you move about freely, but  the city finally smells nice.  Here’s hoping this unbelievable, ungodly deluge of a sprinkle sticks around for a few days.