Tag Archives: creation

Four Ways to Fix the Prequels

7 Apr

Yes, I spent some time thinking about this while bored at work. Why do you ask, doesn’t everyone think about this when bored at work?

As a follow up to a previous entry on how I wish the fundamental approach to writing the prequels had been different, here are a few ideas I’d throw out there for consideration:

1. The presentation of the Jedi. This is a big one. Jedi are cool. We “know” this because we saw Luke (and Obi-Wan to a lesser extent) in the original three movies. The Jedi are badass warriors who have Force powers and use lightsabers. Turns out though that the Jedi are not, in fact, cool. They’re political pawns. Diplomatic soldiers. They’re a rigid Order. They follow a life devoid (as much as possible) of attachment. A life devoid of emotion. They sit around and meditate, or teach others to sit around and meditate. They study archives. They teach others to study archives. They use lightsabers (ok, that part is kinda cool) or teach others to use lightsabers. It’s a risk to portray what was once cool as abruptly uncool, but I think it’s necessary for the prequels. Anakin’s decision to leave the Jedi has more resonance if we’re not so sure about them ourselves.
     I like the way the Jedi Order is portrayed in the movies, but I wish the reasons for the Jedi Order being the way they are were made clear. When you have a world where a minority of the beings (Jedis in this case) have superpowers and the majority of beings do not it creates an interesting tension. How do the superpowered beings react? Do they believe themselves superior? Attempt to enslave the “regular” majority? Do they see themselves as having responsibilities (with great power comes great blah blah blah…)? Do they see their powers as license to do whatever they want? Do they see their powers as a mandate to help others less fortunate? etc.
     I’m fairly certain that if all the people on our police force had superpowers we would want them to be restricted by a code of some sort, perhaps we’d even prefer to have them under our government’s control. Then we’d feel comfortable with them protecting and serving us. As guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, the Jedi must surely know that the biggest threat to the galaxy is a rogue force-user: a person with superpowers that doesn’t follow any code or agree to government restrictions the way the Jedi do. A Sith, for example.

It’s not attachment or fear or anger or emotion that leads to the Dark Side. It’s power. This is why the Jedi Order takes all the force users from everywhere in the galaxy (except the Outer Rim apparently) at an extremely young age and brainwashes them with the ways of the Jedi. It’s for the greater good if all the force users are Jedi. It’s the best way to train soldiers, er, guardians of peace and justice. It’s why the Jedi have such “narrow, dogmatic views.”

One way to show at least some of this is to have Qui-Gon be a true maverick, an actual rogue Jedi, and not just a mostly regular Jedi who doesn’t “follow the code” (whatever that means). Perhaps start Episode I with the chancellor sending Obi-Wan, on his own, to negotiate the trade dispute, but he finds Qui-Gon there. Qui-Gon, as Obi-Wan knows, is one of only 20 Jedi to ever leave the order (another one being Count Dooku) and as such he is a fugitive from justice. Obi-Wan is under authority of the council to return Qui-Gon to justice, a notion which Qui-Gon deems absurd. Qui-Gon is there on Naboo though, because he’s sensed a large disturbance in “the living Force.” (See, Qui-Gon believes that the Force is more than just an energy field, he believes it’s actually a sentient being which has feelings and desires, something which the Jedi Order does not.) So now Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are reluctantly paired on Naboo and there’s inherent conflict between them which originates from their character. Make Qui-Gon a cynical rogue akin to, oh, I don’t know, Han Solo or something like that. He’s amused that Obi-Wan thinks he could actually “return him to justice” but he tags along because he wants to find out what is causing the disturbance he senses (plus the droids try to kill them). Obi-Wan is constantly on edge because he knows Qui-Gon is (or at least could be) dangerous. Qui-Gon is constantly trying to convince Obi-Wan that the Jedi are missing something significant about not only the very nature of the Force, but also something disturbing which is originating on Naboo (a phantom menace of sorts).
     Anakin’s got the idea of Jedi that we had gotten from the original movies. He thinks they’re cool. He looks up to them in the way a boy looks up to heroes. He wants to be one because it’s the greatest thing one could possibly be. When he’s confronted with a regular Jedi, Obi-Wan, and a rogue Jedi, Qui-Gon, his confusion about what it is to be a Jedi starts in right away, a tension heightened significantly when they inform him that he himself has force powers and could, in fact, be a Jedi. (Well, Qui-Gon says he could, Obi-Wan isn’t sure since he’s already too old to enter the Order…)
     Obviously this one significant change in the character of Qui-Gon has massive implications for the rest of Episode I as well as the next two.

2. Include Count Dooku (pronounced the way Lucas does in the EpII behind the scenes stuff, so that his name “Dough-Koo” sounds more like the japanese word for “poison” and less like literal shit) in all three episodes. The way the movies are currently, some time shortly after Episode I Count Dooku becomes Darth Tyrannus. This means that during Episode I Count Dooku is a fallen Jedi (one that has left the order). He is also Qui-Gon’s old Master (perhaps where Qui-Gon got his I-don’t-follow-The-Code behavior?). Why not have Count Dooku contact Qui-Gon in Episode I? Or perhaps the other way around with rogue Qui-Gon seeking out Dooku? Perhaps Anakin overhears this. Count Dooku confides in his old Padawan that things aren’t as they seem, he’s onto something big and he’s not sure exactly what yet. Perhaps he tells Qui-Gon he suspects the sith have returned. Perhaps he tempts Qui-Gon to join him in his quest to defeat the Sith.

3. Include Qui-Gon in all three episodes. This is actually the case with the movies the way they are now, sort of, but it’s really badly done. If he’s made into a cooler rogue character this is even more important. In a saga where the quest to stop death becomes one of Anakin’s primary motivations Qui-Gon is the one character who figures out immortality. He teaches it to Yoda and then (after Episode III) to Obi-Wan. He’s important. He’s talking to Yoda in Episode II but this is so subtle I’m guessing very few people notice (and some that do can’t tell it’s supposed to be Qui-Gon because it’s badly done). Qui-Gon is the one who finds Anakin and the first to believe that he’s someone special. The more significant Qui-Gon’s belief in Anakin the more tragic his sudden departure in Anakin’s life becomes. Anakin is out to try and stop death… perhaps not just because his mother dies, not just because he’s sure Padmé will, but perhaps also because Qui-Gon died. Have Yoda bring up the fact that Qui-Gon has retained his identity after death. To Qui-Gon Anakin listens… Why not have Qui-Gon show up as a ghost in Episode III? Instead of having Yoda tell Obi-Wan that he “has training” for him, have Qui-Gon appear and tell Obi-Wan himself… the first Jedi to figure out post-death-identity-retention ought to be the first ghost shown, right?

4. Fix Padmé’s death. I don’t like thinking that Padmé, the mother of Luke and Leia, dies of a broken heart. Sadly, Episode III indicates that she does. Personally I read between the editing of that scene, examine the subtext that I might be making up, and see it differently. But I shouldn’t have to do this. Padmé’s death ought to be one of the great mysteries and powerful moments of the prequels. It’s one of the few things that we don’t know about. We know she doesn’t live, but that’s all we know. How does Leia remember her? How does Luke not? How did she die? These are fundamental questions that are poorly answered in the movies, if they are answered at all. Her death could be used as a great way to show the true power of the Dark Side, the power of The Force, and the way it truly does connect all of us. Her death can be used to illustrate the profound affect that Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side has on those around him. She is bonded to Anakin, and he to her. When he “dies” this force connection between he and her is broken. When he devotes himself to the Dark Side, after devoting himself to her, some of that new devotion goes into her, perhaps despite her desires. Her connection with Anakin is torn from her. That violent ripping could be cause, in combination with traumatic birth and near-death experience on Hell Planet, for her death. But show that! Don’t just have a droid say she’s dying but we don’t know why.

How not to be a Shmoo: watch Doug Morris, do the opposite

2 Dec

Seth Mnookin, the journalist who wrote a book a couple years ago about why the Red Sox are going to continue winning the world series, has written an article in Wired magazine profiling Doug Morris, the chair and CEO of Universal Music Group.

Doug Morris seems to be one of those very rich men who is refusing to adapt to the changing world (and the internet in particular), and is therefore seeing his business ruined. (For other examples, see the Hollywood Studio heads).

“There was a cartoon character years ago called the Shmoo,” he says in a raspy tenor. “It was in Li’l Abner. The Shmoo was a nice animal, a nice fella, but if you were hungry, you cut off a piece of him and put onions on it, and if you wanted to play football you just made him like a football. You could do anything to him. That’s what was happening to the music business. Everyone was treating the music business like it was a Shmoo.

The “Shmoo plea” sounded more convincing when Morgan Freeman said it in Lucky Number Slevin, Doug (can I call you Doug?), but here’s the thing: if you don’t want to be the schmoo, don’t act like one. If you don’t want to be the schmoo then you have to make some effort to evolve. Learn something. Develop your viewpoints. Don’t say that everyone who owns an .mp3-player is a thief. When asked about the near-demise of the record industry due to free digital downloads (remember Napster?) don’t say this:

“There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”
Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn’t an option. “We didn’t know who to hire,” he says, becoming more agitated. “I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.

My God, Doug, how did you ever learn anything? I mean here’s a situation where you know there is something that you don’t know about, you know that you may have to learn about it, you know that there are experts on it, these “technologists,” and yet you refuse to try and learn? This is why there are experts at things Doug, so that you don’t have to know everything. Are you really not smart enough to tell apart someone who knows what they’re talking about from someone who doesn’t? I’m scared to ask how involved in politics you are…

“People never really understand what’s happening to the artists. All the sharing of the music, right? Is it correct that people share their music, fill up these devices with music they haven’t paid for? If you had Coca-Cola coming through the faucet in your kitchen, how much would you be willing to pay for Coca-Cola? There you go,” he says. “That’s what happened to the record business.”

Interesting question, Doug, here’s another one: if you had tap water coming through the faucet in your kitchen, how much would you be willing to pay for bottled water? See, as far as I know, people still buy bottled water. Here’s another question Doug: If you had Coca-Cola coming through the faucet in your kitchen, but Universal Music made a better quality Coca-Cola, how much do you think people would be willing to pay for it?
Is it correct that people share their music and “fill up” their devices with music they haven’t paid for? Is it correct that the sky is blue, contains clouds, and sometimes rains? Music is free, Doug. Thanks to the internet, all music can be gotten for free. That’s a fact that DRM will never change. You’re asking the wrong questions, Doug, especially if you don’t want to be a schmoo. What you should be asking is how can you get consumers to pay for something that they could get for free?

“Our strategy is to have the people who create great music be paid properly,” he says. “We need to protect the music. I know that.”

I didn’t realize the music was in danger, Doug. I am glad to hear you talk about “great” music though, it’s the first time I’ve heard anything from you about quality. You see, Doug, this has to ultimately be about humanity. There’s no two ways about it. If musicians are artists, and the rest of us humans are appreciating their art, then the artists need to have their lifestyles supported. This, traditionally, was the role of a record label, but now that music is free you’re going to have to find other ways of doing this.
If you piss off the consumers, Doug, the people who are appreciating the art, the people who are paying for the art (which they don’t have to do, remember), the people who are paying you, Doug, aren’t they less likely to want to do that? Why should we pay a Schmoo?

Back in his dining room, Morris is incredulous. He’s once again talking about how his job should simply be finding and breaking new acts. The problem, he says, is that “there’s sympathy for the consumer, and the record industry is the Shmoo.”

There’s sympathy for the consumer… really Doug? I wonder if that’s because they’re right. It certainly seems like you’re right about the record industry.

On writing, striking, stealing, selling, buying, and copying. And profit?

11 Nov

The writer’s strike is making my daily blog reading more interesting since both John August (Go, Big Fish) and Ken Levine (Cheers, Frasier, MASH) have been writing about it almost daily.

The only (almost) compelling case I’ve heard against the writers is that when they are hired to write a script there is nothing in the contract about ownership. In other words, let’s say I am hired to write a movie about a boy and a girl. I do it, turn the script in and get paid for my script, but I don’t own the boy or the girl. If the movie is then made, and the studio then shows the movie online I am owed nothing because I don’t own the movie or anything in it. That’s the argument anyway.

This is one thing (the main thing, I think) that the writers are striking about. If the studios are making money by showing my boy and girl movie online, aren’t I owed residuals? The Writers Guild thinks so. While this is mildly interesting it strikes me as a conflict created entirely by lawyers.

Personally, as someone who is not a member of the writing guild, but may be someday, or in any case considers himself to be a writer, I think there’s a much bigger and more important question to be asking. How can I get people to pay for the media I create?

Traditionally this was easy because the only way to get media (a movie, or a tv show, or a song for example) was to pay for it – to buy it from the studio or record label or television broadcaster. This is no longer true. The internet changes the rules. Media is now free. So, given that anyone can experience the media* I create for free, how can I get them to pay for it?

I have this idea for an internet show. The episodes would be short YouTube videos. Anyone could watch them for free. If it catches on, if it gets a really large audience of regular viewers, there is potential money there since people do sometimes pay for what they like. There is no precedent for how to make this money however. How much of that regular audience is going to pay me for something they’re used to getting (and still can get) for free?
Will they pay me for merchandise (like T-shirts) that relate to the show? Will they pay me for a DVD of the episodes? If I make a DVD of the episodes and one person buys it that person could rip it and make it a free download online. Will anyone else pay me for the DVD?

How can I get people to pay me for media I’m making when they could be/are getting it for free? Should they?

* note that this really only applies to media that can be duplicated. The internet has not made a way to freely re-distribute an art installation with integrated live performances.