The Clock’s Ticking

July 5, 2015 in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing

Clock

Is it just me or is time flying? Can’t believe it’s been more than two weeks since my last post. Health issues, visiting relatives, family roadtrips, work, freelance gigs, NBA free agency and general laziness have kept me from being more active than I should be. Hopefully, that is about to change.

About a year ago I made a pact with a friend, a bit of a dreamer like me but with more outlandish ideas about doing something with their lives to get out of the rat race and make the world a better place. We like to dream big, but like most people, seem to lack the persistence and resolve to follow through. So we decided to promise each other to take the initiative to get something done. Set a goal and work towards it. We decided six months or even a year was too short to get our butts moving, so we aimed for 18 months — the end of this year.

My goal was simple: to complete a first draft of something, be it a novel or a screenplay. There were times throughout the past 12 months where I have gotten into a couple of my pet projects, with great passion and enthusiasm, but never for very long. And now I don’t have very long left. Six months to produce something so I can keep up my end of the bargain.

To be honest I’m not optimistic. I was wrong in thinking that starting is the hardest part. The hardest part is always keeping it up the next day, and the day after, and the day after that. I’ve started so many times over the past year, only to stop after a day or two for whatever reason. The key is to not view that as a stoppage, but a bump in the road before getting back on track again.

Here goes. I’ve got a whole bunch of posts lined up and almost ready to post, so I’ll spread them out over the next week or two to give myself some breathing room to get into it without neglecting this blog. I’m still watching movies so reviews will keep coming.

Wish me luck.

Unofficial, modified NaNoWiMo starts now!

November 5, 2014 in Novel, On Writing

NaNoWriMo

The excuses have finally run out. After “strongly suggesting” that I will take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for at least a couple of years, I have decided to put my foot down and join in the fun –unofficially — for the first time.

This is more a kick up the backside for myself than anything else. My writing projects have lay dormant for way too long and the months and years have been slipping by right in front of my eyes notwithstanding multiple self-promises to get them moving again.

So from today, I am going to commence an unofficial (in that I have not signed up for NaNoWriMo) writing spree that will be tweaked to suit my unique situation. I’m starting a few days late because I was busy polishing off my basket of outstanding movie reviews (pun intended), and I will be gradually releasing them over the next few weeks so that this blog does not become inactive.

However, as I am usually completely tied up by kids and family over the weekends, I’m basically restricted to writing five times a week during work hours, which means I just need to be super efficient. Moreover, I’m heading overseas for a three-week holiday that will run from the end of this month to mid-December, and I doubt I’ll be able to do any real writing during that time.

To account for all these issues, I’m going to be stretching NaNoWriMo over November and December. If my calculations are correct, I’ll have about 15 writing days this month before I go on vacation, and about 12 writing days from my return to the end of the year. The goal is to get to about 100,000 words, which is insane for someone who already writes for a living, so I’m going to temper expectations down to about 80,000 words.

If everything goes according to plan I should have a shitty first draft of something or at least a part of something done by the end of the year, like I promised myself during my optimistic “New Years resolution” period. It’s going to be hard as I still need to update my Pacers blog on occasion and I just can’t refrain from watching more movies and TV series, plus I’m on a special diet and exercise regiment this month. But frankly, I’m sick of being an unmotivated bum while everyone else is reaching for the stars.

So here goes. I’ll be providing weekly updates right here.

Movie Review: Her (2013)

February 23, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

her-poster

Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are) is one of the most interesting and exciting filmmakers around, so I was really looking forward to his latest, Her. And no, contrary to popular belief, it’s not an Arrested Development spin-off film about…

arrested-development-her-poster

Nominated for three Oscars (Best Picture, Original Screenplay and Original Song), Her is a riveting, poignant and strangely poetic sci-fi drama about a divorced man (Joaquin Phoenix) who dates his artificially intelligence-powered computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). I was sceptical initially and thought it might be gimmicky, or worse, silly, but I really should have had more faith in the genius of Jonze (writer and director) and the brilliance of Phoenix, who proves again that he’s one of the most talented actors of his generation.

Like the best sci-fi stories, Her doesn’t require an introductory slab of exposition to explain to us the world the film is set in. It’s presented, as-a-matter-of-factly, from the very first scene about Joaquin’s wonderful and highly unusual job, with other features of this futuristic/alternate reality gradually leaked to us, piece by piece, throughout the rest of the 126-minute running time. Such is the mastery of the storytelling that you don’t question the logic of its universe — you just accept it, and soon, you believe it.

The world Jonze paints in Her is not apocalytpic or dystopian, nor is it really more alarming than most of what we already see today. People’s lives or interconnected with their mobile devices, which are linked to (what I assume are Bluetooth) earpieces and microphones, and spend all day conversing with their operating systems, which they can order to do effectively everything we do on our smartphones right now, and more. When we see Joaquin on the subway or walking down the street, there is very little human interaction as everyone is immersed in their down little digital world. The message is clear but subtle.

I found this world incredibly sad, but at the same time I envied how convenient life had become. Seriously, wouldn’t it be great to have an operating system you can talk to, who is tailored to your needs can sort through your hard drive on your behalf, can give you recommendations on what to see or do, write and send emails as you dictate, laugh at your jokes, or even just be there for you when you feel like you need someone to talk to? Eat your heart out, Siri, you piece of crap.

In many ways, the opening of Her reminds me of one of those awesome episodes of Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits I used to enjoy so much as a kid, with shades of that wonderful Charlie Booker British series Black Mirror. It takes a simple idea from our present world — in this case our increasing reliance, dependence and even obsession with computers and computerized gadgets — and applies a clever and satirical twist to it. But as the film progresses, Her shuns the cliches and exceeds those types of stories (which often have some sort of chilling ending) by becoming a genuinely touching story about a man’s — and reflectively, our own — desire to connect with other people in this increasingly hi-tech age.

It feels strange to say this about a relationship between a person and a computer, but Her is surprisingly romantic. I would go as far as to say that there are times when the film comes across as eerie, but the core of the romance itself never feels creepy. Credit has to go to Joaquin Phoenix for a skilfully restrained performance that makes us believe, first of all, that a person can have feelings towards a computer, and more importantly, in the mixed emotions that come from it. The voice performance of Scarlett Johansson is also incredible. As recognizable as her voice is, it didn’t feel like I was listening to Scarlett Johansson the actress, but rather, the computer operating system known as Samantha. But more than that, I cared about her as a person, which helped me understand why Joaquin’s character did too.

I also had no idea that the film features so many other big names such as Amy Adams, who plays Joaquin’s longtime friend, Chris Pratt, a work funny work colleague, Rooney Mara, as Joaquin’s ex, and Olivia Wilde, a blind date. All of them have their purpose and are memorable in their own way but don’t take steal the limelight from the central romance.

The film is a little too long, with the third act losing steam as Jonze winds down the storyline to find a suitable ending for his protagonists. But on the whole, Her is a sci-fi near-masterpiece that’s sweet, wise, smart, and filled with really creative and cool — albeit disturbing — ideas about the future that aren’t too far-fetched for us to believe that it could soon become a reality. Strictly speaking, I’d say I was probably impressed with Her more than I enjoyed it, but it’s without a doubt one of the finest motion pictures of the year, a film anyone who has ever experienced social loneliness or smartphone addiction can relate to.

4.5 stars out of 5

No more excuses

October 16, 2013 in Blogging, Novel, On Writing

no excuses

I was surprised to see that it’s been about a dozen days since I last posted. And is it really October already? Time flies when you have a full plate.

The last couple of weeks have indeed been hectic but have also allowed me to put things in perspective. My elder son contracted some crazy contagious virus again at daycare and I had to take a few days off work to look after him because we had to segregate him from my younger son to prevent contamination.

Spending so much time with him has been exhausting and great at the same time. He’s really become obsessed with basketball (“ba-ke-bo”, he calls it) and we went about four days straight to practice at nearby courts, sometimes for as long as two or three hours. We would then follow that up with a stroll to a mall in the afternoon and then games at home after a shower. My wife has her hands full with the three-month old so most of the time it’s just me and him.

Kids really are amazing creatures. Maybe it’s because I recently read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck (which I am in the process of reviewing) which is all about living up to your potential by equipping yourself with the right frame of mind. My son has that eagerness and fearlessness right now; he’s curious about everything and once he becomes fascinated with something he can work at it for hours and hours without getting tired or losing interest. He just wants to learn and grow, whereas most of us grownups just want to get by, or worse, achieve something without genuinely putting in the time and effort.

Initially I thought taking a child who hasn’t even turned two to play basketball would be a waste of time because the ball was nearly as big as him and he couldn’t even hold onto it properly. Besides, I wanted to play myself and didn’t want to share the ball. But he chased me around and whined and he whined until I gave the ball to him, and then he began trying to imitate me bouncing the ball off the ground. He stumbled and fell at least a dozen times, scraping both knees until they bled, but he wouldn’t let me take the ball off him or show him how to do it. He wanted to learn for himself.

Amazingly, by the end of that session, he had learned how to bounce the ball with his hands a couple of times. It was only then that he would let me teach him to try and bounce the ball with his fingertips rather than slapping it with his palms. He continued practicing for the next couple of days and got better and better at it, and he even learned how to throw (toss is probably more accurate) the ball further than before. And he was so proud that he had improved.

Unfortunately, he hurt his finger a little bit practicing one day and got scared of bouncing the ball, so I went and bought him a smaller and softer ball to practice with. He’s also become obsessed with watching basketball highlights on TV and loves flipping through books or magazines with basketball pictures. It’s the kind of childlike wonder and passion I wish I had. Not knowing — not believing — that there is a limit on what you can achieve must be a marvelous feeling.

Speaking of passions…I recently celebrated my birthday, and the sinking feeling that I’m not moving forward with my writing is starting to scare me. I’m still writing every day, usually on things I don’t mind writing about, but not on the things I should be writing about. There’s still that fear of starting, that fear of failure, that fear of not being able to do something as well as you imagine you could.

So I’ve been coming up with a lot of excuses. I need to exercise (I do, but maybe not as much). I need to watch TV (which is only true in the case of Breaking Bad, and that’s over now, and the new seasons of The Mentalist and Homeland and Revenge haven’t been very good, though The Walking Dead seems promising…but I digress). I have too many blog posts to catch up on (that is true, but they can wait). I have too many freelance cases to do (I have some, not too many). I have to play Candy Crush, Scramble with Friends and Plants vs Zombies 2 (I don’t). Anything but writing the epic novel or screenplay I have been planning to write for years.

A few weeks ago the names of a couple of my old classmates from my 2010-2011 writing course popped up. I was ecstatic to see that they had each published their own novels, some of which were actually projects they were working on in the course we did together. But at the same time it made me sad and ashamed to realize that I’ve barely touched my own in-progress works. And even with two kids and a full-time job, I probably still had more free time than them.

It’s not just writers either. People all around me are going after what they want. I have friends — some of whom I would never have pictured doing anything — running or trying to run their own start-ups and businesses. Studying things they would like pursue a future career in. Taking risks, chasing dreams — or even just doing something they enjoy more.

I have the time to do it too because of flexibility at my workplace. About three weeks ago one morning I was really pysched for some reason and started writing a screenplay. I got a couple of pages done — it wasn’t particularly good either, but I loved the thrill it gave me. I thought the momentum would carry on naturally and I would keep working on it every day after that, but I haven’t touched it since. What it’s telling me is that if I really want to do something I need to keep at it and don’t think it will come easily. Persistence!

This is on the fringe of relevance, but I will mention it anyway. Last Sunday was one of the most exciting days of my life. I went to watch the Indiana Pacers take on the Houston Rockets in Taipei — courtside — and the experience blew me away. I’ll blog about this soon, but what I want to mention is a former Pacers player I saw sitting in the stands. I was surprised to see him there because this player has not played in the NBA since 2008. He was a promising talent who was selected in the first round of the draft, but his on and off court attitude and drug use pushed him out of the league in a hurry. After playing overseas for a few years he’s still looking for a chance to get back to the NBA, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now and couldn’t even get an opportunity in the NBA Summer League this year. I looked him up on Twitter and it seems he is full of regret over blowing his past opportunities and taking the people who genuinely cared about him for granted. Now that he’s finally grown up and ready to play the opportunity is no longer there.

I guess this is a roundabout way of saying I don’t want to look back years from now and regret having squandered an opportunity to go after what I want when I have the time and energy to do it. So this is it. It doesn’t mean I can’t still do the other things. It just means I need to get down to doing what matters. No more excuses.

Translating Subtitles and Screenwriting

August 21, 2013 in Best Of, On Writing

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I broke my promise to post at least once a day the last few days because I took on an emergency freelance case translating subtitles for a Taiwanese film trying to make a film festival deadline. It was a brutal grind, a 110-minute film with around 14,000 Chinese characters to translate within basically a 24-hour deadline.

On some level, I quite enjoyed the experience. When you love movies as much as I do, translating film subtitles is actually quite the dream job, as long as the deadlines aren’t so tight. The pay isn’t great (as with most jobs in Taiwan), but if I could do a couple a month it would be fine and an acceptable supplement to the income. That said, I do realize that if this really happened I would probably get sick of it in a hurry.

The act of translating subtitles is an art in itself, and the choices that translators make are capable of dramatically impacting how the film is received by the audience.  It’s more than simply grabbing the script and doing a direct translation, as I thought it entailed in the beginning. It’s all about interpretation.

This, for example, is pretty good, in my humble opinion.

Context is crucial, so it’s important to actually watch the footage to see how the characters deliver the lines and how they interact with each other. Apart from being factually accurate, the getting the tone of the conversations right is also important, which is why word choice must be carefully considered.

On top of that, there is the length of the sentences. Some projects have a limited character length per line, but even if there isn’t, it’s always a good idea to keep the lines short and snappy, without losing their effectiveness. There is nothing worse than a line that is too long for audiences to read in time. We’re not all speed readers.

Further, there is the problem of local cultural references and word play, which elevate the difficulty to another level. Do you offer a brief explanation in parenthesis, as I have seen done before, or do you come up with a completely different line that is as close to the meaning as possible for the target audience of the language you are translating it to?

However you approach it, translating subtitles is a thought-provoking process that tests not only language but also problem-solving skills and creativity. In that sense, I’ve come to realize that translating subtitles bears parallels to the act of screenwriting itself. It’s essentially like editing a screenplay that has been written in another language. In fact, I am almost treating my translation projects as screenwriting exercises, which will put me in a good position if and when I start penning my own screenplays (soon, I hope).

The bigger question is, what will this screenplay (or these screenplays) be about? I have no idea, and that is the real problem. I envy writers who have the audacity to think big and have the ability to come up with original and complex plots with confidence. A lot of the Hollywood tripe that gets churned out these days instills optimism, but at least those writers are getting stuff done, unlike me.

The key, of course, is practice, and plenty of it. Don’t be afraid of what people will think and write under the assumption that no one else will see it. Write lots of bad screenplays and good ones will eventually start to emerge. On that note, I will conclude with this awesome video from Paul Haggis, who wrote/adapted Million Dollar Baby, Crash, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, Casino Royale, and Quantum of Solace. His latest film (writer and director) is Third Person, a romantic drama starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson, Adrien Brody, Maria Bello, Kim Basinger and Casey Affleck. It has a release date of September 2013.