May 7 2013

Iron Snow


The sound woke me immediately from the weird dream I was having. It was a distinct ‘thunk’–the sound of something hitting the back porch.

Check the clock–245am. Someone must be trying to get into the house. I got up, pulled on some clothes, and stepped out of the bedroom and checked the back door–still secure.

What could have made that ‘thunk?’ Maybe I just dreamed it. I went to the bathroom and then decided to take a look outside before I went back to bed. Then I realized what made the thunk.

We had gotten about four inches of snow on top of all my freshly leafy maple trees, felling thigh-thick branches all over the yard. The same trees The Baby and I had worked so hard to save from the snow back in February. As I peered through the wreckage I saw something scary–both vehicles were in imminent danger of having branches fall on them.

I threw on some more clothes and ran outside into the driving snow, dodging the unfallen branches most likely to kill a guy. I started with the car, since it is more important, scraping the snow off and entering through the passenger side and then driving it down the street away from the trees.

I was about to move the Jeep, but it was almost entirely enveloped in low hanging branches. I ran in to get Elsa. When I got to the porch, the branch above the Jeep collapsed, hitting the roof of the Jeep. If I had not gone to get Elsa, it might have clobbered me.

Finally I got in and got the Jeep moved. I was the tech on-call for the week, and I knew calling in wasn’t an option for me. I got my stuff together and left the house at 3am.

It was so bad I drove 15mph on 13 Highway. The interstate was clearer so I was able to double my speed, though the visibility was still terrible. By the time I got to Oak Grove I was up to 45mph, and by Independence I was at 55. It wasn’t even snowy. As I got into Kansas City it looked like they had simply gotten a nice rain. Still, I was thankful for only a two hour drive.

The real irony was that I was supposed to be off that day to go see Iron Man 3 with Heather and Stickler. The three of us had gone out for breakfast and then to the movie on the opening days of the previous two Iron Mans.

Still, it could have been worse. During the last blizzard the tech had to sleep on a makeshift cot in the IT office.


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Mar 7 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #10: Gospel vs. Blues

Both gospel and blues are musical traditions rooted in the American South, both are based in tragedy, pain, and misery. But the difference between gospel and blues is that the gospel offers hope. The very nature of the blues is that there is no hope. Your heart is broke, you’re probably going to die from it–and then things will get worse. Don’t matter whether it’s deserved or not, the point is that it stinks–and there’s nothing you can do about it.

It is completely true–I totally borrowed a plot element from a major motion picture for my VBS. The key difference is that the motion picture is a blues song. The character in the movie never changes–she begins selfish, everything she does is selfish, and the very last thing she does–committing suicide–is still selfish. There is no hope. To quote an oft-forwarded email, “The Blues are not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch; ain’t no way out.”

In my story there is hope–and change. Our protagonist does change–certainly beginning selfish, but becoming different. The funny thing is that for years I wanted to write an Iron Man kind of story–a selfish jerk goes through some really bad things and comes out on the other side different–better different–than he was before. But I never could seem to get it right; the scripts ended up morphing into something else. But this year I have inadvertently written that story.

From a storytelling perspective you want to see that change. If the character is the same in the first act as he is in the third act, then what was the point of this story? If Tony Stark is the same after becoming Iron Man as he was before he became Iron Man, the movie would be a failure (I’m looking at you, Jumper).

From a teaching standpoint you want to communicate that there is hope. If I fail to communicate that, then why did I write this VBS? If my only success is as a storyteller, then I have failed, because I missed the point of telling the story.

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Jan 8 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #3: Refinement

The story and script are constantly refined through every stage of the process. The greatest refinements are earliest in the process, and the finer ones later–providing no glaring story problems are discovered.

When we first plotted this story we had three villains, each with specific attributes. I had an idea for one of the bad guys to be kind of a really intelligent, master tinkerer who had made his own clockwork/steampunk armor/exoskeleton, kind of an ancient China version of a cross between Iron Man and Kroenen from Hellboy (wihout the massive crewpy factor). Then we played around with him being a master archer, armed with a drum-equipped repeating crossbow.

However, the character wasn’t so much a character as he was a gimmick–he had no personality, no motivation, and he wasn’t interesting at all.

Then, immersion made an impact.

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Jul 10 2012

Review: Brave

We saw Pixar’s Brave last weekend. It was OK.

I didn’t love or hate the movie; it was just fine. Really, it just seemed like pretty much every other Disney princess movie: I’m a young princess, I don’t want to do any thing I don’t feel like doing, I am willing to do bad things to keep from doing it, I don’t care about the consequences, etc. Our princess does learn a lesson, but it doesn’t really change much of the course of the movie–only a small consequence at the very end; in every other way, she gets what she wanted. By comparison, look at Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in Iron Man, who learns the most significant lesson early in the movie, changing the course of his entire life as you had seen it to that point.

I really wanted to like our heroine, but if she was my daughter I wouldn’t like her very much (but then, I didn’t really like her parents in the film either).

The film is visually gorgeous, and it is humorous at times. The rest of the characters are fine, but I didn’t find myself caring about them a great deal.  I liked much of the music, but didn’t love it. Overall, I would say you could wait until it hits DVD.

Best part? The short film La Luna that precedes the movie, which was beautiful and imaginative.

I hate saying it, but Brave replaces A Bug’s Life as my least favorite Pixar film. Favorites? Up, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Toy Story 1 & 2.


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Dec 19 2008

Review: Best Movies I Saw This Year

Iron Man and Kung Fu Panda, in that order.

I won’t belabor this point with extensive reviews, first, because lots of people already have, and second, if you don’t want to see them you don’t deserve to see them.

Iron Man is a good, fun movie. The protagonist shows a lot of character development (sort of an anti-Jumper), but not so much so as to betray who he really is.

Kung Fu Panda is also a ton of fun, and the directors did a great job of dodging sappy cliches.

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