Tag Archives: Watching the Future

Watching the Future: From Other Shores

Movies treated science fiction well this summer, in terms of quality and popularity. The period between the middle of April and the Labor Day weekend saw the release of four major motion pictures—Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Guardians of the Galaxy—that not only fit comfortably within any reasonable definition of the genre (which often stretches to include superhero movies and the kinds of action fantasies that seem a cross between Three Days of the Condor and The Andromeda Strain mixed with the pace of Raiders of the Lost Ark, to the point that the defining material becomes so thin that it resembles Silly Putty pulled so tightly across a newspaper’s surface that one can read the headline through the dermis-colored, taffy-like material) but also allowed one the pleasure of watching without feeling the need to scour one’s brain beneath a chemical shower after the end credits rolled. Yes, studios served some unpalatable cinematic dishes—both Transformers 4: Age of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles passed through multiplexes quickly, leaving unsuspecting viewers with only the mildest cases of cultural indigestion, while The Purge: Anarchy and The Giver made one leave the theater feeling as if having snacked on two five-pound bags of Haribo sugar-free gummy bears—but for the most part, the summer served genre fans with reasonably entertaining, if modestly satisfying, offerings.
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Watching the Future: Worlds of Whimsy and Despair

Thanks to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (and its follow-up trilogy The Hobbit), the Harry Potter series, and HBO’s own A Game of Thrones, audiences think they have a good understanding of fantasy, or what they think of as fantasy: a setting with a medieval or quasi-medieval feel, with feudal systems and fiefdoms dotting lands plucked from European storybooks; epic battles waged amid the thunder of hoofbeats, the wail of battle cries, and the clang of swords; magics, both subtle and overt, cast by white-haired, robed old men or children brandishing wands (at times with uncomfortable Freudian overtones); and of course a dragon or two—indeed, seldom does an audience member find a fantasy movie lacking enchanted animals.
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Watching the Future: An Interview with Screenwriter Matt Lohr

More than two decades ago, when I was banging my head against a keyboard in desperation trying to write fiction, I somehow became convinced that I should abandon prose and begin writing screenplays.  I read several books, some of them concentrating on formatting (useful because I had, at that point, never considered that writing a screenplay required different textual semiotics from prose), but learned the most from those focusing on structure, such as Robert McKee’s Story and Syd Field’s Screenplay, among others.  Although they never quite get me to the point of actually writing more than a few pages of half-baked ideas (though I did collaborate with one friend on a spy story made obsolete by the abrupt conclusion of the Cold War), they taught me enough about what made stories work to allow me to begin finishing prose fiction at a regular pace.

Had Dan O’Bannon’s and Matt Lohr’s Dan Obannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure: Inside Tips from the Writer of Alien, Total Recall and Return of the Living Dead been published at that time, it easily would have been one of the books I absorbed.  It certainly would have been something I studied carefully.  McKee’s Story offered a wealth of dos and don’ts, Syd Field’s Screenplay broke down three-act structure in a way that made sense, but this particular manual came from the same mind that produced one of the greatest science-fiction horror movies of all time, one of the best-known zombie movies (made before zombies shambled into the cultural zeitgeist), and one of science fiction’s best known indie movies.  He also worked on one of the greatest movies never made, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, so what he said would have carried a great deal of weight for this budding science fiction writer.  In fact, his work views drama in a manner that seems self-evident but that other writers seldom explore.  It’s a work I’d recommend not only to screenwriters, but also to those who want to write fiction.

Dan O’Bannon died in 2009, before he and Matt Lohr could finish their collaboration.  I got the chance to talk to Matt about the book, and about what makes his approach to writing different from others.
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